A new library at Lambeth Palace will house the biggest collection of religious works outside the Vatican after planning permission was granted for the first new building at the historic site for 200 years.
A contemporary building with a nine-storey tower will be constructed in the grounds of the palace on the south bank of the Thames opposite the Palace of Westminster.
The collection of historic manuscripts and books dating back to the ninth century will be stored in highly advanced archives.
“It includes books and manuscripts collected by archbishops down the centuries, and the modern collection is the archive of the Church of England,” said Declan Kelly, director of libraries and archives at Lambeth Palace.
“There are maps and books, even a book on mathematics written by one archbishop. It covers periods of great religious turmoil across Europe and really important parts of this country’s history.”
The only surviving copy of the execution warrant of Mary, Queen of Scots by Elizabeth I in 1587; the licence for the poet John Milton’s third marriage in 1663; and a “beautiful exchange of letters” between Prince Albert (who would become King George VI) and the then archbishop about his marriage to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923 were in the collection, Kelly said.
It also includes church representations over the tightening grip of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s, and the lobbying by C of E figures over the 1944 Education Act.
“It covers social and political history. It’s much, much more than a religious archive,” Kelly added.
The brick building will stand at the far end of the grounds to the Grade 1-listed palace, the London seat of the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
Wright & Wright, the firm of architects which won a competitive process to design the library, said the narrow building would form an “occupied wall”, protecting both the collection and the gardens it overlooked.
“This is an extraordinarily important and unique collection,” said partner Clare Wright. “It’s a fantastic honour to be working on such a significant building.”
It will have views over the palace gardens and across the Thames to the Houses of Parliament. “It’s a wonderful architectural opportunity to create a building about church and state and the evolution of British democracy,” said Wright.
It was designed to have an “incredibly small carbon footprint, which is quite difficult when you also need to protect such an important collection”, she added.
Construction of the library, which will be open to the public, will start early next year and is expected to be completed in 2020. Lambeth Palace declined to be drawn on the budget for the project, but said the costs would be met by the church commissioners who are the custodians of the collection.
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