And there was silence in heaven for half an hour…
I think they must have been on the library tour at that point. And I know what the library looks like, because I am in the earthly version of it – Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden. I am seated in a balcony alcove at an old wooden desk with angle-poise lamp, facing a central space surrounded by carved railings and open to the floor below. I have just finished reading the Spring 2017 version of Christian Writer – (brilliant poem, A Messy Business by Alexine Crawford. More please!) – and I’m now thinking about next week’s blog.
In fact, I’m thinking about a lot of things. We have been visiting friends locally and extended our stay to one night in the library. Not, as my husband keeps telling people, sleeping on a bookshelf – giving rise to jokes like ‘did you have to book?’ – but in a pleasant room of almost monastic simplicity, with a view of the adjacent churchyard. Books and graves, so peaceful.
Strict silence is maintained in the main part of the library – it is so quiet that the click of someone’s computer keys in the opposite alcove seems unnecessarily brash. Footsteps up the creaking spiral staircase ought to irritate, but instead I find them slightly intriguing, the discreet comings and goings of other bibliobabes.
What is it about the serried spines of leather-bound books that gives such a sense of timelessness, of continuity, of comfort and security? Firstly, I suppose, because the care and expense that has gone into their printing could only happen in peaceful times, and because they have survived through troubled times. Secondly, they present an image of order and etiquette. The books here are well mannered, their covers giving no more than an initial discreet cough to invite conversation.
One book is displayed to view, the copy of an original created for St John’s Benedictine Abbey, Minnesota: a handwritten and illustrated version of the Bible, lovingly worked in the historical tradition of craft, creativity, patient labour and beauty. It is the work of calligrapher Donald Jackson, who says: ‘The continuous process of remaining open and accepting of what may reveal itself through hand and heart on a crafted page is the closest I have ever come to God.’
So, is this a library just for intellectuals, for people who live entirely in the cognitive part of their brains and who deal only in dead knowledge? I don’t think so; the ambience is utterly romantic, and the imagination could wallow here in all the possibilities of Victorian melodrama, crime fiction, poetry or modern love story – and all before turning a single page.
Not surprisingly, the place attracts writers as well as researchers, and there is an official writer-in-residence who is invited to stay a month and give talks, seminars, and contribute to a blog as well as produce their own work. If anyone out there is interested, then why not look up their website and contact them? www.gladstoneslibrary.org
Oh, and there is a café, Food for Thought, which feeds more than the soul!