Christian theology and ecclesiastical history
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Christian theology and ecclesiastical history have always been of paramount importance to the Library. Modern archival holdings are strongest in the field of Nonconformity.
The Methodist Archives and Research Centre holds the largest collection in the world of manuscripts relating to the founders of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley and other members of the Wesley family.
Other notable Methodist figures who are represented include Thomas Coke, Joseph Benson, Adam Clarke, William Clowes, Hugh Bourne, John Rattenbury, John Ernest Rattenbury, Harold Burgoyne Rattenbury, and Dr Rupert Davies.
The institutional records of Methodism are also well represented. These include the records of the Methodist Conference and its several committees and large collections deposited by the administrative Divisions of the Church.
There is material relating to all the major preunion Methodist denominations, including the Lewis Court Bible Christian Collection. The Methodist theological college, Hartley Victoria College, and Hunmanby Hall, the Methodist girls' boarding school, are also represented.
Most other major Nonconformist denominations are also represented, including archives of Baptists, Christian Brethren, Congregationalists, Moravians and Unitarians (mostly linked with printed collections).
There are also records from associated religious organizations and pressure groups, such as the Audenshaw Foundation, the Industrial Mission Association, the William Temple Foundation, the League of the Good Samaritan and the Women in Theology Group.
The Library also holds a collection of medieval charters relating to Pluscarden Priory, Morayshire; the archives of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, who took over the House of the Frères Coquins in Liège, Belgium; and the medieval Beaumont Charters relating to abbeys in Normandy.
Papers of individual churchmen and theologians include those of John Graham (Quaker), Jack Keiser (lay ministry), Thomas Manson (Presbyterian, biblical scholar), Arthur Samuel Peake (Primitive Methodist, biblical scholar), Thomas Raffles (Congregationalist, church historian), dom sylvester houédard (Benedictine monk, leading figure in the ecumenical movement), and Edward Freeman (church historian).
The Bagshawe Muniments contain papers of the Rev. William Bagshawe (1628-1702), the 'Apostle of the Peak', and other early Nonconformist ministers.
Outstanding among the printed theological and ecclesiastical resources is the Bible Collection which numbers some 10,000 items, including first editions in about 400 languages and dialects published over five centuries.
The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century is well documented, with tracts and other publications associated with Luther, Erasmus, Melanchthon and others to be found within the Reformation Collection.
The politico-theological controversies of the 17th century are fully rehearsed in the English Tract Collection, the Street Literature Collection of ballads and broadsides, and the Sutherland Collection.
John Rylands was himself a devout Nonconformist; his Hymn Collection consists of 60,000 English and other hymns in 34 volumes.
The Library is a world centre for the study of Nonconformist theology and history. The transfer of the Methodist Archives Printed Book Collections (comprising some 60,000 items) to the Library in 1977 greatly supplemented the already excellent holdings in this area, such as the Rylands Wesley Collection and the Hobill Collection, to make the Rylands's collections the prime resource for Methodist history.
There are nationally important printed collections illustrating the history of the Baptists (Northern Baptist College Printed Collection), Unitarians (Unitarian College Printed Collection), Congregationalists (Congregational College Printed Collection), Quakers (Midgley Reference Library and Wilmslow Quaker Collection) and Christian Brethren (Christian Brethren Printed Collection). The Urwick Library from Hatherlow Congregational Church in Romiley, Cheshire, is one of the few 19th-century chapel libraries to have survived.
Other noteworthy collections include the Clogher Diocesan Library from Ireland; the G.L. Brook Theology Collection which contains 17th- and 18th-century theological works; the Dr Bray Clerical Lending Library from Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire; a collection of early 19th-century tracts published by the American Sunday School Union; and a collection of biblical and theological literature presented by James Prince Lee (1804-1869), Bishop of Manchester.
The Cassedy Collection of Irish publications contains works relating to the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in Ireland. The Kinder Collection relates to sixteenth-century Spanish Nonconformity and related areas of study such as European Protestant and Catholic Reformations, radical reformers, and Spanish Golden Age religious literature.