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The Library

Maintaining a wealth of precious knowledge

The Library embodies what is special – but also financially demanding – about Christ Church. It holds a wealth of precious knowledge, providing books, journals and reports for our students and academics. With your support, we can preserve this wisdom for the next generation of scholars.

The pandemic has only reinforced our existing ambitions for increased accessibility, demanding a continuous process of digitising our rare collections in order to make their contents more available to scholars, and helping to conserve our treasures for the future. Christ Church Library and the Bodleian Library have joined efforts in a digitization project with the aim of opening up the rich repository of manuscripts and rare early printed books at Christ Church. Over the course of the next few years, thousands of pages from this outstanding collection will be made freely available online to researchers and to the public.


The Library is seeking to catalogue the entirety of the Allestree Library’s collections, a total of 2,500 titles. 

Richard Allestree (1621-1681) came up to Christ Church in 1637 and is renowned for serving in the Royalist army during the Civil War, throughout which he endeavoured to save many of the college’s treasures from the Parliamentary forces. In 1660 he was made a Canon of Christ Church, and was subsequently appointed Regius Professor of Divinity. He was a noted scholar and conservative, anxious not to permit the propounding of any doctrines which might create controversy, but tolerant. For a man who had served in the army throughout the Civil War and seen the horrors of faction first-hand, this stance is not surprising.

Allestree died in January 1681, and left in his will his library of around 3500 to the University of Oxford for the use of the Regius Professors of Divinity. As the professorship is attached to a canonry at Christ Church, the books have always been kept here in a small room over the cathedral cloister set up specifically for them. The little room which houses the collection was probably of medieval origin and, until a restoration project completed in 2012, was prone to huge fluctuations in temperature and humidity which caused mould and mildew.

Some books showed signs of being meals for book-worms and silverfish, shelving was unsuitable for the storage of rare books, and the floor, made up of a wonderful collection of medieval tiles, cried out for proper recording and preservation. We are grateful to those who enabled the restoration of the Library, and you can see the magnificent paving-tiles here. We now ask for your support in cataloguing and preserving its contents.

The Allestree collection is a known priority for cataloguing – already we receive many requests from people who are interested in the collection, but cannot access its contents. There is a bias towards theology in its contents, but there are many other subjects, including classics, science, medicine, mathematics, and patristics, offering an incredible opportunity to scholars from a multitude of fields. As a discrete collection too, Allestree’s library is fascinating in many ways.

Cataloguing Allestree and making the collection discoverable for those at Christ Church and beyond will be an invaluable asset to researchers in many areas of scholarship.

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