Christ Church Library houses one of the largest and richest collections of early printed books and manuscripts in Oxford. Its holdings are of international importance and are particularly rich in music, theology, classics, travel books, numismatics, early science and Hebrew studies. There are an estimated 80,000 early printed books, and well over 1,500 manuscripts in the Western, Byzantine, Hebrew, Arabic and Music collections. Several thousand more documents are located in other special collections - among which are those focusing on Lewis Carroll materials, the extensive archives of Archbishop William Wake's 18th century correspondence, second world war documents related to Winston Churchill and Viscount Portal, and the huge F.W. Brady collection of theatrical ephemera including c. 40,000 items.
An impressive number of these manuscripts are rare or unique texts, several are masterpieces of book design, and many have illustrious provenance (King Edward III, Thomas Wolsey, King Henry VIII, Robert Burton, John Dee, Michel de Montaigne and Queen Elizabeth I).
True to its legacy of enabling new scholarship by providing increased access to unique resources and committed to the sharing of knowledge, the library is engaged in a series of large-scale projects aimed at creating important new research tools. Among these, one of the most important and eagerly-awaited by the scholarly community is digitizing the rare and unique items, and all manuscripts collections. Close to 200 manuscripts and unique items have already made available. Numerous others are in the pipeline, due to appear soon.
Highlights among the manuscripts digitized so far include:
- MS 5, a 9th century volume containing three historical treatises, including a previously overlooked but complete manuscript of Theophanes' celebrated Chorography. Recent reassessment by Nigel Wilson has established this as the oldest extant manuscript of Chorography.
- MS 92, Walter de Milemete's De Nobilitatibus, Sapientiis, et Prudentiis Regum (1326). Milemete wrote this book on the nobility, wisdom and prudence of kings as an offering to King Edward III. It is one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world and one in the highest demand by specialists.
- MS 101, the Epistolary of Thomas Wolsey (1528). Among the most stunning volumes housed at Christ Church is this Epistle Lectionary, a 16th century manuscript richly illuminated in the Flemish style. The book contains readings from the Epistles for a number of feast days throughout the year. For detailed research about this and its companion volume, Magalden College's Gospel Lectionary, see The Wolsey Manuscripts Project.
To keep track of all the digitisation work undertaken to date, please see Christ Church Digital Library.