Tapestry

Take a tour of sacred books in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

PJ Carefoote, an Anglican priest and a librarian, shares the stories attached to some of the oldest texts in their collection of over 800,000 books.

Pearce Carefoote is an Anglican priest and Interim Head of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. It's the largest rare book library in Canada with about 800,000 books. Carefoote shares the stories attached to some of their oldest religious texts and special books with Tapestry producer Graham MacDonald.

Pearce Carefoote's favourite view of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. "It always reminds me as if we were in a cathedral.” (Rosie Fernandez/CBC)

"It always reminds me as if we were in a cathedral. It is a sacred space where we've preserved the history of print going back to the time of Babylon right through to the things that are being printed today in some small press out in Cape Breton. So this view always reminds me of the huge expanse of preserved knowledge from human kind...it's really a very humbling place to stand."

"These books not only contain stories, but they have stories that are attached to them. These stories very much communicate the whole of human experience and they're very patient - books are. They sit on these shelves and some of them I know may not have been looked at for 100, 200 years. Some of them could have been used as recently as yesterday, and yet they're very patient. They stay, they remain, and they wait until the day that someone needs them."

Here are some of those stories.

Codex Torontonensis - The four gospels in Greek :

This copy of the four Gospels in Greek from 1050 shows damage from rats gnawing at its cover, and holes made by bookworms. (Rosie Fernandez/CBC)

"Why I love it is because the decoration of the book, even though it's a Christian book, is very Islamic. And it comes from the period just before the first crusade when Christians and Muslims were living together in peace, and learning from one another and sharing techniques of manuscript production.  This book is a preservation of that record of that time of harmony in the history of Western Civilization before everything started to fall apart between the religions. So I find that a very moving experience everytime I hold that book."

The Gospel of Luke is decorated with a Turkish carpet in a geometric design, showing the Islamic influence on a Christian book. (Rosie Fernandez/CBC)

The Gospel of Luke is  decorated with a Turkish carpet reflecting the Syrian influence on this Christian book. The cover shows extensive damage where rats have gnawed it and  bookworms have eaten their way through it.


The Wicked Bible:

Removing one word from the Bible changed everything. Known as "The Wicked Bible" a rival printing press sabotaged a printing of the Bible in 1631 in England.

"There were 11 copies of this in the world.  This is a 1631 copy of the Bible. There are only 11 copies left because it has this terrible terrible misprint… 'Thou shalt commit adultery'. It's known as 'The Wicked Bible.'  The books got out into the market. It had a full press run. This is one of the first instances that we have of industrial sabotage. It was another printer who actually had the 'not' removed because there was a monopoly on who could print the bible in England in the 17th Century. And the same family had held that monopoly since the 1570s. So you can imagine other printers were kind of saying "There's money to be made here and I'm not getting anything.' They got in and removed 'not'...So the Bishop of London was obviously not happy. The books were collected and burned by the public executioner - they were that serious about it - in Parliament Square."


The Torah:

A copy of the Torah from the 10th Century, Spain. (Rosie Fernandez/CBC)

"This dates from the 10th century. It's very fragile now. And like a lot of Jewish books it has suffered a lot over the centuries. It always strikes me as remarkable that we have so many fine Jewish manuscripts because there obviously there was a great effort made over the centuries to destroy them. But this one is a wonderful survivor. As I say, it's a copy of the Torah, probably done in the area of Spain, 10th century. Interesting that it's not in scroll form. It's in book form and we know it never was a scroll because there is writing on both sides of the pages, which in a scroll wouldn't happen. This is the way it was intended to appear."

Shakespeare's First Folio :

The library houses the only Canadian copy of the first printing of the Shakespearean plays made in 1623. About 750 copies were printed in total with 232 remaining in the world. (Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library)

The library houses the only Canadian copy of the first printing of the Shakespearean plays made in 1623. About 750 copies were printed in total with 232 remaining in the world.

The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is named after Thomas Fisher, a miller on the Humber River, the great-grandfather of Sidney Fisher - a banker who liked to collect Shakespeare. He gave his collection of the four folios of Shakespeare to the library. The First Folio is officially known as, Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published according to the True Originall Copies. 

"This is the volume that preserves 36 of the 37 Shakespearean plays in the Shakespearean canon...Half of them we would not know were it not for this book. There are no pre-existing publication of 18 of the plays."

The Shakespearean First Folio in Toronto is known as "Rosebud" because someone pressed a rose in the book and the oils left a perfect impression of the rosebud. (Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library)

"A number of the first folios have nicknames and our is called the Rosebud because, as you can see, there, someone pressed a rose between these two pages and the oils have left a perfect impression of the rosebud on this page of the play of Cymbeline."

Casket and Manuscript dedicated to Sir John Craig Eaton:

A casket made to house a manuscript dedicated to the late Sir John Craig Eaton. (Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library)

When Sir John Craig Eaton (the son of Eaton's founder, Timothy Eaton) died at age 45 in 1922, a special casket and manuscript were commissioned. 

"They wanted to give testimonial to his widow, Lady Eaton. This is the beginning of the 20th Century when the Arts and Crafts movement  is really in full swing and so where they look is backwards to the middle ages. So this casket [is] what they think a medieval casket would look like. All of that to hold this. And it's only 8 pages saying how wonderful Sir John Craig Eaton was."

A specially made manuscript for Sir John Craig Eaton after his death in 1922. (Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library)

Click LISTEN above to hear Tapestry producer Graham MacDonald speak to Pearce Carefoote, the interim head of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, and an Anglican priest at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, and St. George's on the Hill in Etobicoke,

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