Right Reverend Geoffrey Scott (Abbot of Douai Abbey, Berkshire)
The Right Reverend Geoffrey Scott on the legacy of monastic libraries. Image: Carla Marchesan.
Dom Geoffrey spoke about the continuity of monastic libraries and in particular of the development of the current library and archive at Douai Abbey (pronounced Dow-ee in English, and Doo-ay in French, where the name originates) which opened in 2010.
Most early monastery libraries were very small with about 100 volumes and located traditionally next to the Scriptorium. At Douai, which was established in the UK when the French Laws of Association expelled the French community in 1903, a new monastery design was commissioned and approved from Frederick Gibberd in 1963, and this included a library. However, only a third of the designs were ever built – and the library was not part of that.
Gibberd’s philosophy was informed by functionality, as can be seen in his design of Nuneaton library, which was condemned in some architectural commentaries. Gibberd also designed Ilford’s Fullwell Cross leisure centre, which is more contemporary and resembles Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.
David Richmond was commissioned in 2005 to make some further additions to the estate. He was given the original St Gall architectural drawings to illustrate the history and traditions of the monastery, enabling him to build in key features such as separate monastic and guest refectories and cloisters.
The original library plans had no provision for public access and only a small space for archives and microfilm, so in 2010 when Richmond was then commissioned to add the library, these issues needed to be addressed. The library was placed in the same location as Gibberd had planned and has bricks placed vertically to represent books on shelves. It contains a reading room, archive, public entrance and an approach for monks, lined by cloisters and lavender beds. The staircase also includes a pulpit feature, linking it back to the main abbey.
The library has proved to be very popular, and they now offer to take in papers and archival material from other monasteries and to continue as an archival resource as other ecclesiastical orders decline.
Review by: Emma Delaney, University of the West of England