23 May 2011
Two world-class items from the Bodleian Library collections have been accepted to the UK Memory of the World Register, an online catalogue created to help promote the UK’s documentary heritage across the UK and the world. The 9th-century Cura Pastoralis of Gregory the Great represents the first surviving book written entirely in English. The Gough Map, dated to the 14th century, is the earliest surviving route map of Britain, depicting over six hundred towns and villages. The two items join another eighteen historically important items such as the death warrant of Charles I, the 1689 Bill of Rights and King William’s charter to the City of London.
King Alfred’s translation of Gregory’s Pastoral Care (Cura Pastoralis) dates from approximately 890. This earliest English manuscript book is the only surviving book that can be linked to the King; it is his translation from the Latin into Anglo-Saxon of Pope Gregory’s work and bears a unique preface about the decline of learning among his people in the form of a letter from the King to Waerferth, Bishop of Worcester.
The book represents a sophisticated approach to language and learning at a crucial time in the nation’s political and cultural development. It forms part of Alfred’s attempts to educate and rally his people through the use of edifying texts in the vernacular rather than in Latin, bringing them together in the face of an external (Viking) threat. This manuscript remained at Worcester until the late 17th century, when it was bought by the Bodleian from Robert Scot, as part of the collection of Christopher Hatton, 1st Baron Hatton.
The Gough Map, the most important medieval cartographic representation of the country, arrived at the Library in 1809 as part of Richard Gough’s bequest. Gough had purchased the map for half a crown at a 1774 auction where it was offered as ‘a curious and most ancient map of Great Britain’. It is the earliest surviving map depicting Britain with a recognisable coastline, but it is not known who commissioned it or created it. The Gough Map has been part of an innovative interdisciplinary project which focuses on the map’s ‘language’ with the aim to discover what this can tell us about those involved in its making. To celebrate the completion of the project, the Gough Map is currently on display at the Bodleian Library until 23 June.
Along with over six hundred towns, the map shows two hundred rivers and a rudimentary route network of over 4,700 km. Other physical features are identified by symbols, with trees locating Sherwood Forest and other wooded areas. It seems almost certain that the cartographer did not know the shape of Scotland – Scotland was still considered a foreign country at the time – but many towns are shown in detail, and routes are marked in red with distances in roman numerals.
The UK Memory of the World Programme is part of a worldwide initiative established in 1992 to ‘guard against collective amnesia, calling upon the preservation of the valuable archive holdings and library collections all over the world ensuring their wide dissemination.' It promotes not only the preservation of, but also access to the UK’s heritage collections and awareness of the nation’s archival resources. Nominations are assessed every year. The first ten items to became inscriptions to the UK Memory of the World Register were added in 2010 with another twenty items being listed this year.