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Detail from the title page of the Little Gidding Concordance

The story behind one of the treasures of the Royal Library

Little Gidding community

The Little Gidding Concordances c.1642

RCIN 1123464

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The Little Gidding Community was an Anglican religious community established by Nicholas Ferrar (1592-1637) at Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire (Cambridgeshire) in 1625. The community was formed of his extended family and servants.

One devotional activity pursued by the community was the creation of biblical harmonies and concordances. The creation of these concordances involved cutting, arranging and pasting Bible verses and excerpts from other religious tracts onto pages, which were then collated and bound. Most of the books, including this one, were also richly illustrated with collaged engravings of Biblical scenes.

Most of the Little Gidding books were Gospel harmonies, which amalgamated the four Gospels so that they could be read as one single narrative. But other works included a concordance of the books of Kings and Chronicles, several multi-lingual harmonies, and two typological works examining the first five books of the Bible.

Originally, the books were produced for the devotional use of the community. However, the industry expanded in the 1630s, and the community began to make books on commission for wealthy patrons and as gifts for friends. King Charles I visited the community and commissioned several books for his own use.

Nicholas Ferrar and his brilliant young nephew (also Nicholas) composed and directed the creation of the books, but the cutting, pasting and even binding of the works was entrusted in the main to Ferrar's nieces, and was seen as an excellent way to keep their hands and minds busy on pious work. The poet George Herbert, who was a friend of Ferrar and was given a Little Gidding harmony, wrote that he "most humbly blessed God that he had lived now to see women’s scissors brought to so rare a use as to serve at God’s altar."

This book was the last, largest and most magnificent to be made at Little Gidding, and includes the first five books of the Bible, interspersed with excerpts from several works of typology, and richly illustrated with primarily Dutch and Flemish engravings. It was composed as an attempt at reconciling Old and New Testament law. This volume was almost certainly made for Charles II when he was Prince of Wales. He and his father Charles I saw the book, unfinished, as they fled north from London in 1642, at which time one of their court called it the “gallantest, greatest book in the world.”

Charles II never received the finished book, and for many years it was lost. It was rediscovered walled up in a secret cupboard in an English house in the early nineteenth century. In 1953 it was presented to Queen Elizabeth II, and is one of the Royal Library's largest books.

Another example of work by the Little Gidding community is RCIN 37036, a needlework casket.