BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page was last updated in March 2008We've left it here for reference.More information

25 July 2014
Accessibility help
Text only

BBC Homepage

Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Related BBC Sites

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!


History features

You are in: Manchester > History > History features > Unlocking the Rylands

John Rylands Library

John Rylands Library

Unlocking the Rylands

It has among its treasures some of the world’s most rare books and manuscripts. And now they’re on display at Manchester’s John Rylands Library after a £17m refurbishment. Find out more:

The project, called ‘Unlocking the Rylands’, was not only to restore the crumbling Grade 1 listed neo-Gothic building and protect the library’s collections but also to open them up for anyone to see.

St Christopher Woodcut [John Rylands Library]

St Christopher Woodcut

For three years, many of the Rylands’ four million books and manuscripts were stored in a Cheshire salt mine to protect them, while the extensive refurbishment was carried out. Amongst them are the oldest books ever printed, ancient scrolls from the four corners the world and archives of Manchester.

But now they’ve returned to state-of-the-art storage and exhibition areas at the Library which now also boasts a purpose built new Reading Room, Conservation Studio and a brand new visitor entrance wing.

Hidden Gems

But what are the hidden gems of John Rylands? John Hodgson, keeper of manuscripts at John Rylands reveals a few of their most precious items:

St John Fragment [image: John Rylands Library]

St John Fragment

1. St John Fragment (125 AD)

The oldest known surviving piece of the New Testament, it’s a tiny fragment of the St John Gospel, less than 9 cm tall. Dating back to 125 AD, it ranks as the earliest known fragment of the New Testament in any language. It was discovered in Egypt and provides evidence of the spread of Christianity in areas distant from the land of its origin. Written in dark ink on papyrus.

John Hodgson: “It’s the passage where Christ is questioned by Pontius Pilate just before the Crucifxion and is of huge iconic status. People come from all over the world to see it and people get very emotional at times when they look at it. And we’re very proud to have it.”

Gaskell's inkstand [John Rylands Library]

Elizabeth Gaskell's inkstand

2. Elizabeth Gaskell’s manuscript collection

Papers of the 19th Century novelist who exposed the poverty and dire social conditions of industrial Manchester. They include letters from Charles Dickens to Elizabeth Gaskell and original manuscripts of The Grey Woman and Wives and Daughters (both published in 1865). The Library also holds manuscripts of Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontė (1857) and The Crooked Branch (1859); and Mrs Gaskell's ink-stand, paper-knife and other personal possessions.

John Hodgson: “When you look at her ink-stand, you can just imagine Mrs Gaskell sitting at her desk, dipping the quill pen in her glass ink pots, and composing her manuscripts. Looking at her inkstands really brings to life some of her works."

Bhagavata Purana [image: John Rylands Library]

Bhagavata Purana

3. Bhagavata Purana scroll (17th Century)

A sacred Hindu scroll in a wooden box, 45 feet long, A very important religious text written in a minute Sanskrit script.

John Hodgson: “It’s too long to display in its entirety, and the script is too minute to read – you really need a magnifying glass just to see it, let alone read it. So we’ve actually digitised it. And visitors to the Library can run their finger up and down the screen to move the scroll dynamically and they can zoom in on particular areas and see them in incredible detail.”

4. St Christopher woodcut (1423)

The earliest dated example of European printing bearing a date. It is preserved as an endpaper in a manuscript dated 1417 from Bohemia, the 'Laus Virginis'. The woodcut printing technique which predates modern printing involves drawing the design on a smooth block of wood and then cutting away areas which are to appear in white.

Gutenberg Bible [image: John Rylands Library]

Gutenberg Bible [John Rylands Library]

5. The Gutenberg Bible (c. 1455)

A printed version of the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg, in Mainz, Germany in the fifteenth century. The first book to be printed in Europe using moveable metal type. Its other name – the 42-line bible - refers to the number of lines of print on each page. It is believed that about 180 copies of the Bible were produced – of which 48 have survived. Its production marked the beginning of the mass production of books in the West,

The Library was officially re-opened by the Anna Ford, co-Chancellor of The University of Manchester at a special ceremony on Thursday 20 September 2007

last updated: 19/03/2008 at 15:54
created: 20/09/2007

You are in: Manchester > History > History features > Unlocking the Rylands


Thomas Clarkson

Manchester: the slave trade and its abolition

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy