Skip to main content

The Collections

Named after Matthew Parker (1504-1575), a former Master of the College, antiquarian, historian, and Archbishop of Canterbury, the Parker Library is a treasure trove of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, as well as early printed books. The magnificent collection comprises over 600 manuscripts, and around 8,000 books printed prior to 1850, a considerable portion of which were bequeathed to the College by Parker himself in 1575. 

The Library holds very many early manuscripts, including several which predate the year 1000. The best-known of these is the celebrated Gospels of Augustine (MS 286), a sixth-century book made in Italy and brought to Canterbury at Pope Gregory the Great's behest to aid Augustine in his mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons. It is one of the oldest illustrated Latin Gospel books, and is still used for the enthronement of each new Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Library is also of major importance for the number of manuscripts in Old English. It houses around 40 Old English manuscripts, including the Bath Old English Gospels (MS 140), the oldest version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the principal source for early English history (MS 173), and the Corpus Glossary, an alphabetical word-list in Latin with Old English equivalents (MS 144). Taken together, the Parker Library's Old English manuscripts represent about a quarter of all surviving manuscripts in this language.

Parker also bequeathed to the College two giant twelfth-century Bibles: one from the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds (MS 2), and the other from Dover Priory, Canterbury (MS 3 - MS 4). Furthermore, Parker collected what is now known as the best surviving manuscript of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (MS 61), which accompanies a rich collection of other Middle English as well as French and Latin texts on subjects ranging from alchemy to astrology to music and medicine. Of particular interest are also the numerous documents relating to the European reformers of the sixteenth century, including letters from Bucer, Melanchthon, and Erasmus, together with many of Parker's personal papers and letters.

Digital surrogates of all the Parker manuscripts are available via our online platform, Parker on the Web. This was a five-year undertaking which aimed at maximising access to our collections, and, in doing so, foster research and teaching associated with our manuscripts. Thanks to the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the project was completed in 2009, and was carried out jointly by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University Library, and Stanford University Libraries.