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The Bodleian Library is the largest of several libraries within the University of Oxford collectively and confusingly known as the Bodleian Libraries. The Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, in Britain is second in size only to the British Library and has been a library of legal deposit for 400 years. Together, the Bodleian Libraries hold over 13 million printed items. College libraries, some of which are older than the Bodleian, are entirely independent.
The University’s first library was in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, in a room which still exists as a vestry and a meeting room for the church. In the 15th C, Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester and younger brother of King Henry V, gave the University his priceless collection of more than 281 manuscripts, including several important classical texts. The University decided to build a new library for them over the then new Divinity School; it was begun in 1478 and finally opened in 1488. However, the collection was destroyed by the Dean of Christ Church in 1550 as part of an attempt to purge the English church of all traces of Catholicism. Sir Thomas Bodley (1545–1613), a diplomat and Fellow of Merton College, came to the rescue. He had married a rich widow (whose husband had made his fortune in pilchards) and decided to "set up my staff at the library door in Oxon; being thoroughly persuaded, that in my solitude, and surcease from the Commonwealth affairs, I could not busy myself to better purpose, than by reducing that place (which then in every part lay ruined and waste) to the public use of students". The Bodleian Library opened in 1602, incorporating the earlier 15th century library. Known to many simply as ‘the Bod’, these buildings are still used by students and scholars from all over the world.
There are three buildings across the Bodleian Libraries accessible to visitors: the Old Bodleian Library, the magnificent Georgian Radcliffe Camera and the modern Weston Library. The old Divinity School, with a fabulously intricate vaulted ceiling, is underneath Duke Humfrey's library.