A look into our history books on Heritage Open Days

On Friday 8 September, as part of Heritage Open Days, we'll be bringing some of the highlights from our medieval Library down to the Chapter House. Here, our Archivist Rebecca tells us more...

Can you tell us a bit about what you will be doing on Heritage Open Days? What can people expect to see?

I’m bringing some highlights from the Cathedral Library down to the Chapter House on Friday 8th September from 11-1 and 2-4. There’s no need to book, just drop in, have a chat and take a look. As the library is normally accessed via a spiral staircase and by appointment only, it’s wonderful to be able to break down the barriers that prevent people visiting. The display will be made up of our volunteer’s favourite items ranging from our medieval abbey’s Historia (the monks own handwritten chronicle) to a recent book published about Tom Denny’s stained glass, visitors can even see some of the equipment we use to clean the books.

Are you looking forward to taking part in Heritage Open Days?

Yes, it’s always a great opportunity for people to accidentally discover the history of our wonderful city and county. There’s never enough time for people to get round to everything, as we are really privileged to have lots of venues opening their doors for free.

Why is Heritage Open Days an important initiative to take part in?

As a free weekend Heritage Open Days remove some of the barriers that might prevent people dipping their toes into history. It helps new people to find the welcome that our churches offer and gives opportunities to engage and widen our meaning and relevance. As part of a national activity it can offer ways to reach beyond our walls and reach the widest possible audience.

Can you tell us what your role as Cathedral Archivist typically involves?

As Cathedral Archivist my main focus is to discover and share our records with researchers and the public (our archives). These are still mainly uncatalogued so working with volunteers we are working our way through over 250 boxes of archives to identify and put into context each fragile fragment of our history whether it be a letter, a photograph, plans or minutes and accounts. We also look after the historic library of over 6000 books. As I work 3 days per week for the Cathedral I couldn’t do this without the help of the team of volunteers who work alongside me.

What led you to become an Archivist?

Growing up I was a vicar’s daughter in Exeter Diocese, and got the chance to handle some of the old records of the parishes on their way to the County Archives there. Discovering a small handwritten book on the flora and fauna of Exmoor started a love of archives that still continues many years later.

Is there an item in the Cathedral Library that is particularly significant to you personally?

I have many favourites. From the illustrated King James Bible from 1685 that reminds me of Usborne books to a book of engravings of Versailles that will be on display on Friday, each book is significant and interesting, partly for its contents but more for the evidence they can give of the men and now the men and women who have led the Cathedral over the last 350 years. Through the books they donated we get to meet these people, discover their passions and sometimes through their graffiti their passionate held opinions.

How does your Christian faith inform your work as Cathedral Archivist, and vice versa?

I love being Cathedral Archivist because it gives me the chance to use my skills for the benefit of a Christian organisation which I really care about. As a Christian and with a clergy household upbringing, I find the terminology and multi-layered hierarchy of the Church normal and easy. I love using the history and mystery of the library to engage with visitors and hope that they might be touched by something more than the normal when they come to the building. Although the role is primarily non-religious, I find that it gives the chance to talk about faith past and present, finding new and deeper understanding through conversations with visitors, colleagues and clergy.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Gloucester Cathedral community?

I am privileged to have access to the Cathedral during the quiet times and the busy ones and to discover time after time the comfort and uplifting power that my faith offers to me. The Cathedral has marked many key moments for me, from marriage to my last service shared with my Mum before her death. It gave me a safe space to rediscover faith after a period of doubt, and still has the power to nourish my soul whether through music, liturgy or the pure grace and simplicity of its architecture. The Cathedral is now inextricably enmeshed in my own life and history.

Also as part of Heritage Open Days, we're inviting you to come and explore the Stonemasons' Workshop on Saturday 9 September. Click here to find out more.