A short history of the ‘Librije

The ‘Librije’ is a unique 16th century public library in the St. Walburga’s Church in Zutphen. The Church itself dates from the 11th century. The building and the interior of the library have remained almost unchanged throughout the ages. The greater part of the original collection of books is still in situ.

Some books have been chained to the reading desks since the time of foundation. In medieval times the Chapter of the St. Walburga’s Church consisted of 12 canons. They were not only responsible for the church services but also advised the Duke of Guelders and the town council in legal matters. By the end of the 15th century this occupation had resulted in an unusually large collection of books. So, when in about 1490 the south chapel was built, the decision was taken to construct a ‘liberie’ – a library – over the vestry.

In the middle of the 16th century the churchwardens Conrad Slindewater and Herman Berner planned a large reading room abutting the ambulatory. From the records of Slindewater, well-preserved in the Zutphen town archives, we learn that the ‘Librije’ was intended to be a stronghold against the increasing popularity of the Reformation. Slindewater wrote that, if people read the right books, they would be cured of their errors and become true believers of the Christian faith. To him this meant the Roman Catholic faith.

After lengthy preparations the actual building of the ‘Librije’ started in 1561. It took three years to complete. The design was based on the existing reading rooms in the medieval convents of Zutphen, the Broederenkerk (“Brothers Church”, i.e. Black Friars Church) and the Galilea monastry. The shape of the building was adapted to fit in with the adjoining church.