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On Saturday 20 April, a day conference of leading historians met to discuss the significance of Church Church MS 540, a copy of a 1632 Prayer Book held by Christ Church Library.
25 Apr 2024
The House
Discussion panel in Christ Church Library
Discussion panel in Christ Church Library

Christ Church Library holds a copy of a 1632 Prayer Book with annotations from Archbishop William Laud and others, and the signature of King Charles I.  These notes were used in the drafting of the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637 – one of the most controversial works printed in early Stuart Britain.  When the Prayer Book was first used in Edinburgh's St Giles Cathedral it famously provoked a riot.   Soon, the religious and political tensions between Charles and his subjects led to civil war across the three Stuart kingdoms.  

This volume, Church Church MS 540, has recently been conserved thanks in part to the generosity of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust.  On the 20 April, Christ Church Library held a study day to discuss its significance, showing its place in the wider story of the Civil Wars and the development of a distinctive religious identity that would become Anglicanism.  Speakers, including Professor Richard Cust (University of Birmingham), Professor Ken Fincham (University of Kent), Professor Sarah Mortimer (Christ Church, Oxford), and Professor William White (University of Hertfordshire), reflected on the role of this Prayer Book and of Archbishop Laud in the build up to war between England and Scotland, and on the religious and aesthetic culture of the 1630s. There was a particular focus on the place of Christ Church in this story – in the 1630s it was one of the centres of a new aesthetics, renowned for its new stained glass, and throughout this period the Canons were some of the most important theologians and preachers.  After the talks, participants were able to view MS 540 and related books from the collection, before a special 1630s-themed Evensong in the cathedral.

MS 540 will soon be digitised and freely accessible on Christ Church’s Digital Library as well as available for study and research.



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