The Fryer Library

Written by Joseph

I’m currently studying my Master of Arts degree at the University of Queensland. One of the subjects I’m doing is centered around researching for fiction, and as part of this we took a ‘field trip’ to another building on campus to take some inspiration from the Fryer Library.

UQ has some amazing library facilities, and the Fryer specialises in rare collections. The librarians set out an amazing spread for us, creating themed tables with some unbelievable documents (white cotton gloves on now, people!). There was a table about World War One, about the Australian soldiers landing in europe and setting up camp. There were diaries, official records and someone’s personal photo album, all original douments from World War One. There was a table about Cook and his studies of nature. There was a table about Queensland history, with a lot of meeting minutes which were simultaneously fascinating and incredibly tedious. There was a table about colonisation and aboriginal relations. And so on and so forth.

But for me, the best table by far was the Medieval Literature table. There were recreations of documents, history books about medieval literature… and this:

The Fryer Library

This is the “Decretales cum apparatu domini Bernardi et lucubrationibus Hieronymi Clarii”. Duh.

This book was printed in 1493 and is a codification of canon lore set by the Pope. 1493. This book is 522 years old and I held it. I turned its crunchy old pages and read it. It was an incredibly surreal experience — I mean many people appreciate that books can be beautiful as objects in their own right, and I think this was the embodiment of that. It’s obviously written in Latin, so I can’t read it. That made it important only because of its age and beauty.

One of the most interesting things I found out about this book is that the actual book text is that little inset rectangle you can see in the middle. All that bulk around it is the notes added after the Pope said this stuff. I guess this was before anyone thought of footnotes or appendices. Also there was handwriting on the front. Handwriting from the middle ages. I swear I swooned.

The trip was amazing and informative, even if I didn’t get much writing done due to the plethora of ephemera.

Thanks for reading.

18 thoughts on “The Fryer Library

    1. Thanks for reading! Yeah it was so gorgeous… I may or may not have plans to acquire it for myself 😉

    1. It was wonderful! Even reading the less interesting stuff was still a great experience; it was like ‘everyday’ history rather than the big stuff we always learn about.

  1. What an absolutely wonderful piece of history. Medieval manuscripts are some of the most amazing historical documents out there, if you ask you me.

    1. I agree. It was the first time I’d ever actually seen one in real life (I think…) and to have it out in front of us rather than behind glass was brilliant.

  2. Ah that sounds amazing! Is the library open to everyone or just students? I don’t love in QLD, but I think it would be worth a trip to check it out.

    1. Technically anyone can walk into the Fryer but they have very strict rules about conduct etc. and I’m pretty sure you have to provide a good reason as to why they should get out the special collections (eg a professor’s permission or you’re doing a PhD) :

    1. Yeah it was such a weird way for the text to be formatted, when we’re so used to footnotes and appendices

  3. Wow!

    This sounds utterly fascinating and transcendental: reading words that were printed over 500 years ago.


    1. “Transcendental” is such a good word, it really was. It was so surreal reading something that old… I mean I can’t even comprehend something that old; I feel powerless to encapsulate it in a single blog post!

    1. Isn’t it glorious? Such a weird layout to our eyes. It was an amazing experience being close to something that old. Just having to put on cotton gloves was exciting enough let alone being able to turn some 500-year-old pages.

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