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Religion and theology

Religion guide

Special Collections offers a wealth of material spanning hundreds of years for those interested in religion and theology. Collections date from the middle ages to the 20th century.

Find out about the history of Quakerism in Yorkshire, discover early books and manuscripts as well as cathedral archives within our Ripon Cathedral collections, discover remarkable examples of Judaica and Hebraica, and read theological papers and works.

Quaker (Society of Friends) collections

Material relating to Quakerism in Yorkshire is extensive, and reaches back to the foundations of the Society of Friends in the late 17th century.

The Carlton Hill and Clifford Street archives together form the major resource nationally for the study of Yorkshire Quaker history. Their most important component is the minute books of Quaker meetings throughout a large part of West and North Yorkshire, dating back to the 17th century.

Birkbeck Library

The Birkbeck Library was originally formed by Maurice Birkbeck (1734-1816), and was deposited by Yorkshire General Meeting in 1981. It consists of over 4,000 books on Quakerism, both by and about the Quakers, with most of the materials dating between 1650 and 1750.

Leeds Friends' Old Library

The Leeds Friends' Old Library is an equally old collection, mostly dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. It was deposited by Leeds (Carlton Hill) Preparative Meeting in 1976 and contains about 500 volumes with over 1,000 separate items. A handlist is available.

Ripon Cathedral Library collections

The library of Ripon Cathedral contains many rare and valuable early printed books, including a number of incunabula. The books focus on religious matters and include liturgies, bibles, service books, doctrinal texts, religious philosophy, and discussions of the Old and New Testaments. Many are in Latin, and in their original bindings, incorporating unique manuscript material.

Medieval Manuscript fragments

The Ripon Cathedral library collection is unique in its volume of medieval manuscript fragments.

These fragments were discovered in later bound books, being used to hold books together. Following the arrival of printing and the dissolution of the monasteries, pages from unwanted manuscripts were frequently reused in the form of paste-downs (paper fixed to the inside of the cover to keep text pages in place) and fly-leaves (a blank page at the beginning or end of a book) to strengthen the bindings of printed books.

Commonly these have been lost in the process of rebinding, but the bindings of the Ripon Cathedral library collection preserve an unusually large amount of fragments of medieval manuscripts, in addition to early modern printed waste material. Several of these fragments have been removed and are stored separately; many more of them remain in place.

Dean and Chapter Archive of Ripon Cathedral

The archives of the Dean and Chapter of Ripon Cathedral cover all aspects of the history of the church at Ripon from the late Middle Ages to the 20th century.

The collection includes Chapter Act Books, service registers, financial papers, and documents relating to charities. In addition, there is material relating to the choir and music, the fabric of the Minster, hospitals and schools, the Canon Fee Court, and Chapter property and tithes.

Judaica and Hebraica

The Roth Collection contains many books and manuscripts related to Judaism and Jewish communities.

The Roth Collection's most distinguished elements are over 900 pre-1850 printed books and 750 manuscripts including diaries, hymns, ephemeral broadsheets, liturgical works, poems, minute books, works on philosophy, polemics and Cabbala, Rabbinical literature, Halacha and Midrash. There are also letters and papers relating to the Jewish community in Salonika at the end of the Second World War. Together, they form a rich source for research into Jewish social and literary history.

Strengths of the collection include works from Italy, Conchin (South India), Corfu, England, Spain and the Sephardi community in Amsterdam as well as works by sects such as Karaites and Samaritans.

The items are written in a variety of languages such as English, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Greek, Judeo-Apulian, Judeo-Provençal and Ladino. However, Yiddish and Judaism in Eastern Europe is not widely represented in the collection.

The collection was originally assembled between the 1920s and the 1970s by Cecil Roth (1891–1970), one of the most eminent English Jewish historians of his time. After his death, it was divided between the Brotherton Library and the Beth Tzedec Museum in Toronto.

Theology collections

If you’re interested specifically in Theology, we have books on all matters of religion, as well as the archives of previous professors of theology at the University.

Theology printed collection

The main theology printed collection chiefly contains books formerly shelved in the Library's lending collections. The earliest item in the collection was published in 1670, but the majority of the works date from the early 18th century onwards.

All Souls Theology printed collection

The All Souls Theology Collection was donated to the Library by All Souls College, Oxford, in 1926. It contains works dating from the late 16th century to the late 20th century, covering religious subjects, and also some works of Socinian literature.

Freemantle Collection

The Freemantle Collection contains theological works collected by WT Freemantle. The majority of the material is from the 17th century and many works have associations with Sheffield. The writing of Robert Sanderson and Richard Baxter is strongly represented.

Holden Library

The Diocese of Ripon deposited the Holden Library with us in 1940. It contains books on all matters of religion including Old and New Testament, Christian doctrine and ethics, devotional literature, pastoral theology, church organisation and history, public worship, liturgies and sacraments and non-Christian religions.


Modern theological papers held by Special Collections include most notably the large archive of Ernest John Tinsley, former Professor of Theology at Leeds and subsequently Bishop of Bristol. The archive spans the years c1937 to 1991, and comprises over 250 folders containing writings and other material on a wide variety of theological topics. It reflects his abiding interest in, and research on, the relationship between Christianity and the arts, and includes much illustrative material, such as slides and cuttings.

Two later Leeds professors of theology and religious studies are also represented by significant archival collections. The papers and correspondence of Professor David Edward Jenkins (subsequently Bishop of Durham) contains over 40 boxes of a wide variety of professional and personal papers and publications. The archive of Adrian Hastings, the former Professor of Theology at Leeds and author of The Church in Africa 1450-1950, contains 23 boxes of personal, academic, and campaigning material.

You may also be interested in...

Many of the Library's medieval illuminated manuscripts, including those on deposit from Ripon Cathedral, are religious in nature.

Among the incunabula (books printed in Europe before 1501) in the Brotherton Collection are examples of works by Saints Anselm, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Gregory, Jerome and Thomas Aquinas.