Heritage Open Days at Gloucester Cathedral

Published: Friday September 8, 2023

Rebecca Phillips with some of the treasures from the archiveRebecca Phillips, the Archivist for Gloucester Cathedral celebrated Heritage Open Days by sharing some little-seen treasures from the Cathedral archive to the public.

On Friday 8 September, she is bringing some highlights from the Cathedral Library down to the Chapter House.

She said, “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.

“Heritage Open Days are 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.

“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.

“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 6,000 books. As I work three days per week for the Cathedral I couldn’t do this without the help of the team of volunteers who work alongside me.

“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.”

Rebecca has many favourites from the archive. She said, “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 passionately held opinions.

“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.

“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.”

Pop in and see Becky today between 2-4pm or book yourself onto an Archive Tour in October ->

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