Guarding the apocalypse: inside the fortress of the new Lambeth Palace Library

Guarding the apocalypse: inside the fortress of the new Lambeth Palace LibraryDecember 23, 2020

The London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury now has a refined bunker to house its magnificent religious archive including lavish illuminated texts and the execution warrant of Mary Queen of Scots

A dangerous-looking porcupine scuttles across the bottom of a page of a medieval manuscript, amid scenes of fire-breathing dragons, bodies bubbling in cauldrons, and boats deluged by biblical floods. Known as the Lambeth Apocalypse , this 13th-century illuminated text is one of the lurid highlights of the magnificent collection of Lambeth Palace Library , the most important religious archive in the UK and the largest in Europe, after the Vatican in Rome. For centuries, this precious hoard has been kept in a series of leaky, draughty rooms in the palace, gradually filling up every cramped corner. Now, after 400 years, it finally has a purpose-built home – and it’s safe to say that, if the apocalypse ever comes to south London, this fortified building will probably survive it.

“Noah could float past in his ark and the collection would be all right,” says Clare Wright, the Scottish architect behind the £24m new library. “We’ve created a concrete bunker with more bunkers inside, all lifted up above the one-in-1,000-year flood risk level.”

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