Canterbury Cathedral’s new digital archive goes on display

Louis VII parchment and 17th-century travel diary among historic Anglo-French documents in new exhibition

Pages from history … the diary of 17th-century monarchist John Bargrave and a religious illustration from Canterbury Cathedral's new digital archive
Pages from history … the diary of 17th-century monarchist John Bargrave and a religious illustration from Canterbury Cathedral’s new digital archive

A selection of beautiful manuscripts that have lain quietly in Canterbury Cathedral for hundreds of years are being brought to life in a new digital archive that enables readers to interact with the materials without damaging the centuries-old books.

They include a parchment from a 12th-century French king, an exquisite illlustrated prayer book and the travel diary of a 17th-century English author and collector, John Bargrave.

Bargrave was a monarchist who travelled through France in the 1640s, while civil war raged in England, and his diary includes drawings and writings relating to his travels, with references to his “gentleman’s museum”, a collection of more than 300 objects amassed along the way.

In a pilot project jointly run by the cathedral and the universities of Kent and Rouen in France, the manuscripts were digitised using DocExploresoftware, making the sometimes tiny documents easier to read.

Cressida Williams, Canterbury Cathedral and city archivist, said: “Bargrave’s is a dairy of where he goes, illustrated with lovely drawings. The manuscript is quite tiny, very fragile and tightly bound. The software enhances it, blows it up so that people can have a good look at the pictures and at the handwriting, and we can add commentary, explanation, photos and video.”

The materials include a small collection of charters written by French kings to the cathedral, including a sheet of parchment from King Louis VII of France, sent in 1179, granting wine in memory of Thomas Becket, who had been murdered in the cathedral nine years earlier.

There is also a collection of French manuscripts, including a highlight from the Rouen collection titled Le Canarien, a travelogue written by French explorer Jean de Béthencourt of his 1402 expedition to the Canary Islands, plus an account of King Henry II of France’s entry into Rouen in 1550, and copies of religious documents created at Winchester scriptorium.

Williams said the contents of the cathedral archive could be made available online in the future. “We have about 2km of records dating from the ninth century to the present day; it’s a fantastic collection that’s very under-used, and there is currently no display facility. For the pilot, we looked at Anglo-French manuscripts, and the next stage would be more general-interest history.

“We have a document with William the Conqueror’s signature on it, so that’s one where we’d like to tell the story for a general audience.”

The digital manuscripts will go on display in an exhibition in the Cathedral Archives from 13 to 14 September 2013.

Article courtesy of The Guardian