More Than Words

Exploring England #20

Foremost among the many beautiful buildings in Manchester is the John Rylands Library. Founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John Rylands, the library was gifted to the people of Manchester and first opened to the public in 1900.

The library houses a vast collection of precious books, manuscripts and illuminated texts, including a Gutenberg Bible. An entire wing is dedicated to the Althorp Library, which Enriqueta acquired from Lord Spencer for £210 000 in 1892. But as fascinating as the collections are, it’s the spectacular Victorian building many people come to see.

The neo-Gothic interior is richly ornamented, with stained glass, vaulted arches and soaring ceilings. Statuary fills every niche.

Enriqueta and John Rylands, immortalised in white marble, greet visitors to the Reading Room, where alcoves are filled to overflowing with aging leather-bound books.

Historical figures of artistic and scientific importance line the walls of the Reading Room, They look down serenely upon those who visit, as if ready to impart their knowledge to a new generation.

Whether it’s ancient words or wonderful architecture, this beautiful library has something to offer everyone.

39 thoughts on “More Than Words

  1. In a digital world, it is indeed worth reminding ourselves of the unique place of libraries in our history. Too often we consider the content of individual books, without thinking about the book’s context – of course the writer’s own history, but also that of the keepers of the words, the librarians who, over the ages, have worked to protect our written history. It is only when a catastrophic event occurs, say a fire, or a government’s policy to ban and burn books, that we are reminded vividly of the role of libraries.

    In our travels, we have found that there is something of an awed reverence toward libraries that, in a pre-digital world, strove to protect the written word. We have visited museums of Muslim history that specifically aimed to safeguard rare manuscripts, but also small village libraries that strive to sustain a culture of book lending to their community.

    The formal setting in this grand building serves to remind us all of the special role played by writers across the ages.

    Thank you for taking us along on this visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • While we were there, I wondered how many of these books are actually accessed now. The Althorp collection was under lock and key in specially designed temperature controlled cabinets which is necessary for their preservation. But it made me think about whether, after the collection was acquired, these books were ever opened again and did they give joy to Mrs Ryland as they would have to previous owners. They were hundreds of years old and it seems a shame to have them put away on shelves and not treasure them. I know preservation is important but does anyone actually know any more what is contained between the covers of the books?


  2. I feel smarter just looking your beautiful pictures and reading the captions. Those guys are powerful! Now they’ve ever got you doing their hard work for them! 🙂


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