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  • Writer's pictureLilium

The Bodleian Libraries - Enchanting Havens

The Bodleian Library is the main research library of the University of Oxford, and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. With over 12 million items, it is the second-largest library in Britain after the British Library.

The mission of the Bodleian Libraries is to provide an excellent service to support the learning, teaching and research objectives of the University of Oxford; and to develop and maintain access to Oxford's unique collections for the benefit of scholarship and society.

Together, the Libraries hold more than 13 million printed items, over 80,000 e-journals and outstanding special collections including rare books and manuscripts, classical papyri, maps, music, art and printed ephemera. Members of the public can explore the collections via the Bodleian’s online image portal at or by visiting the exhibition galleries in the Bodleian’s Weston Library.


Old Libraries do something to me. When there is a building that is hundreds of years old filled with books that are equally as old, I can do nothing but drift towards them, lured by the siren song of pages turning and the creak of old wood.

I went to the Bodleian Libraries on a trip with two companions in the cold depths of February, 2020. We had a very tightly packed schedule and didn't have as much time as I would have liked so we only visited one small part of the vast libraries, the Divinity School.

Built between 1427 and 1483 and attached to the main Bodleian Library, it is the oldest surviving purpose-built building for university use, specifically for lectures, oral exams and discussions on theology. The ceiling consists of very elaborate lierne vaulting with bosses (455 of them), designed by William Orchard in the 1480s.

The vault bears shields of arms, initials, religious subjects, animal and foliage representations as well as inscriptions appearing in English, French and Latin.

You may recognise the Divinity School’s classic gothic vaulted ceiling from the Harry Potter films which served as the Hogwarts Infirmary.

When one sits down in this medieval chamber and gazes at the detail of the ceiling, it's quite overwhelming. The intricacy at every join, and what do all the bosses mean? Whose initials are those and which family does that coat of arms belong to? One can only begin to imagine the lectures that were held here, the words whispered in the golden light that streams through the windows when the lecturers back was turned. When life has returned to complete normality, Oxford and its libraries is the first place that I will visit.


Below is a video from the Bodleian Libraries where they talk about the libraries' exhibition Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth explores Tolkien's legacy, from his genius as an artist, poet, linguist, and author to his academic career and private life.



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