The Toledo Chapter's Library

Like the Archive, the Chapter Library is closely linked to the life and development of Toledo's Chapter, which owes its existence to the reconquest of Toledo by Alfonso VI (1085), the arrival of Toledo's new archbishop, Bernardo de Sédirac, and the immediate restoration of Christian worship in the Cathedral by his cohort of French priests. In this sense, the library's origin harks back to the adoption of the Roman liturgical rite in Castile (circa 1080) when, once the see was reinstated, gave rise to a need for a permanent library for the new liturgy.  The liturgical and musical manuscripts brought by the French priests to develop their monastic life were the first to occupy the new library's shelves. The collection grew over the subsequent centuries by buying manuscripts and donations by canons, archbishops and cardinals.

The Chapter Library comprises three main sections: the Old Toledo Collection, the Zelada Collection and the Lorenzana Collection, with a total of over 2,800 manuscripts and 5,500 printed volumes. To these main collections must be added the series of 19th and 20th century printed works that are part of the Chapter's Ancillary Library.

One milestone in the history of the Chapter Library is 1798, when the manuscripts from the extensive private library of Cardinal Francisco Javier Zelada were added to the collection. Zelada's codices were bought in Rome by Cardinal Lorenzada and there were also 27 liturgical manuscripts, mostly from the period of Urban VIII, which Lorenzana bought and subsequently donated to Toledo's Chapter Library. This highly significant contribution is the most important series of well-preserved manuscripts donated in the past centuries and today it makes up most of the records held in the Historical Library.

In 1869, during Spain's First Republic, the Chapter Library's entire document collection was confiscated and not returned until the early days of the Restoration, with the exception of around 50 documents that had no catalogue number, a few that were lost in transport, and 234 codices that were deposited temporarily in the National Library of Madrid to be studied and catalogued, where they remain today.

Bibliographical and documentary collections:


Manuscripts and Printed Books

The manuscript and printed books collection is the foundation and reason for the Chapter Library as such, and it comprises around 8,000 volumes. They touch on a broad and lively range of topics and themes: the Bible, law, liturgy, the early Christian fathers, the Visigoths, Hebrews, Greeks, Arabs, Latin, Spanish, Italians, French, on the ‘Translator's School’, the Renaissance-Humanism, literature, grammar, astronomy, mathematics, music, painting, decorations and religion.

At first the books were part of the Cathedral's treasure and were not distinguished by being in a special category or for their value. They were precious objects, the same as the chalices and relics, and not a part of the library as such. They were not classified and were always placed in the Tabernacle, inside the donors' chests. After the 13th century, and since 1382, in particular, the books were set apart from the other items in the treasury. A 'Library' was built and the books were inventoried for the first time.

The initial set of books grew over time with donations and when a canon died intestate, without leaving a Will, in which case his assets became the Cathedral Church's property. Most of the books, however, came from voluntary bequeathals by the prelates and clergymen assigned to service in the Cathedral. The Cathedral had no library of its own and did not order books other than the ones commonly used in the choir and the altar. The Visigoth manuscripts were added at several different times, generally the later periods, but most of them came from the Mozarabic parishes in Cardinal Cisneros' day, in the year 1500, when the new Mozarabic Breviary and Missal were printed and their former books fell into disuse.

An important inventory was made in 1593, with the introduction of a new catalogue system based on two numbers, which is still used today. In the 18th century, the Chapter commissioned Benedictine monks Diego Mecolaeta and Martín Sarmiento to catalogue the books again, following the old system. They completed their task in 1727. Jesuit Father Marcos Andrés Burriel began a systematic examination of the Chapter's Archive and Library in 1750. His meritorious and interesting study and work are recorded in the Burriel Papers, which were seized by Minister Ricardo Wall in 1756. Most of them are kept in the National Library in Madrid, and some are in the Royal Library in Brussels and the British Museum in London. Subsequently, Father Lorenzo Frías, in 1808, and José María Octavio of Toledo, in 1869 compiled two new catalogues of manuscripts and printed books in Toledo's Chapter Library.

The early 19th century witnessed the last and most important acquisition of documentary collections by the Chapter's Library. In 1798 when the Roman Republic was declared and the pope was forced into exile, Cardinal Francisco Javier Zelada, librarian of the Vatican's Library and secretary of State to Pope Pius VI sent most of his collection of manuscripts to Toledo in 1798, heeding the advice of Francisco Antonio de Lorenzana, cardinal and archbishop of Toledo. Cardinal Lorenzana bought a smaller set of manuscripts, nearly all of them liturgical, which were also added to the Chapter's Library. A set of Hebrew books from Cardinal Zelada's library also arrived some time later.

Rare Manuscripts

The collection of Rare Manuscripts, which currently comprises 26 volumes, consists of manuscripts of special artistic, religious and cultural significance that were not catalogued with the Chapter Library's document collections, as well as others that are equally significant and have been added more recently. These are mostly highly ornate missals and books that record the pope's ceremonies. They receive the consideration of 'Rare’ owing to certain aspects, such as the person who made them, donated them or was going to use them; their rich ornamentation, binding or format; the materials used to make them; the content of their texts, and their age.

Polyphonic Choir Books

The collection of polyphonic choir books comprises 35 big books used for worship and divine praise in the Cathedral of Toledo. It includes religious polyphonic works by the Cathedral's most renowned chapel masters and other prestigious musicians known world-wide. The collection comprises 700 music compositions by 70 different authors, as well as several anonymous works.

The chapel master receives that name universally in all the major religious institutions for it was his responsibility to teach the musical repertoire in cathedrals and chapels, and to direct the musicians and voices of the singers in the choir. Chapel masters had to sit a stiff examination before they could direct a music chapel in Toledo. This implied extensive knowledge of their subject matter, broad experience, and great renown. Once they attained the position, most masters remained in Toledo permanently, for this was the best Cathedral to which masters could aspire and the one that gave them the most prestige.

A chapel master had two main duties. One was to find choir boys and seises (the six best voices), give them an audition and an examination, teach them music, and give them accommodation and subsistence, as well as directing the chapel singers and instrumentalists. The other duty was to choose, control, compose and direct the music repertoire and its execution, correct the existing music books and buy new ones, and select the singers, organists and instruments. The Chapel master's specific duty was to compose Christmas carols for Christmas and the Epiphany, as well as masses, psalms, hymns and motets, and music works for grand liturgical solemnities and special occasions at the Cathedral.

The most outstanding and prolific chapel masters and authors who have left the highest number of choir book compositions are:  Jerónimo y Santos de Aliseda, Miguel de Ambiela, Pedro de Ardanaz, Ginés de Boluda, Jaime Casellas, Rodrigo de Ceballos, Pedro de Escobar, Bartolomé de Escobedo, Constanzo Festa, Francisco Guerrero, Josquin des Prez, Alonso Lobo, Cristóbal de Morales, Jean Mouton, Juan Navarro, Francisco de Peñalosa, Bernardino de Ribera, Jorge de Santa María, Francisco de la Torre, Andrés de Torrentes, Felipe Verdelot, Tomás Luis de Victoria and Sebastián de Vivanco.

Plainchant Choir Books

The Cathedral of Toledo's plainchant collection comprises 203 choir books: 153 enormous parchment volumes, with big, thick covers, and 50 smaller volumes.

This music collection contains almost all the plainchant song books that were made for the Cathedral choir and its chapels between the second half of the 16th century and the late 19th century. There are also a relatively important number of older volumes, including the last quarter of the 15th century. To all these should be added 28 'Mercedarios' choir books from the Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy, although how they came to the Cathedral of Toledo is not known.

Most of these choir books were designed to be used by a full choir. Some of the volumes, or parts of them, in the case of loose leaves, were signed and/or dated by their respective scribes. Others can be identified by the wealth of records in the Obra y Fábrica's document collections, which make reference to the way the volumes were copied, illuminated and bound.

All the manuscripts are copied on relatively thick parchment. The pentagrams always have five lines and, with very few exceptions, they are drawn in bright red or vermilion ink. The notation is black squares, most of which are not mensural, although mensural and semi-mensural notations are used for most of the hymns. Rounded letters are used for most of the texts and signatures, although after the 18th century certain copyists used Roman letters.

This magnificent collection of plainchant choir books includes four 16th century Mozarabic choir books by Cardinal Cisneros and two Aquitaine antiphonals from France, written in the 11th and 12th centuries.


Inventories are made to keep record archbishops' visits to the Cathedral and the succession of Treasurers who are in charge of guarding and administrating the church's treasure of valuable objects. The inventories list the assets and the documentary, bibliographic, artistic and religious works that were originally kept in the Tabernacle and later in the Chapter Archive and the Chapter Library. At first, the inventories were comprehensive, encompassing all the objects in the Tabernacle (liturgical robes, sacred vessels made of precious metals, papal rings, reliquaries, silver and silver made into coins, archive manuscripts and library books, etc.). Later, the books and documents were described separately, although Tabernacle Inventories continued to exist. The first inventories were usually commodatums or records with precise data and detailed references of loans of objects held in the Tabernacle's treasury to archbishops and other individuals.

There are more than 40 Inventory manuscripts, in addition to the ones drawn up in more modern times by Fathers Mecolaeta and Sarmiento, Frías, and by Octavio de Toledo. The first inventory is dated at some time in 1255-60 and the last one was made in 1834. The inventories that refer solely and exclusively to books include: Inventory of jewels and the books of their predecessors, recovered by Gonzalo Pétrez, in Avignon (1282); Inventory of books salvaged by Archbishop Juan de Aragón through the dean Vasco Fernández, which were among the items their predecessors had  pawned in Montpellier (1320); Inventory of liturgical objects and Tabernacle books that Gil de Albornoz received for his chapel and personal use (1339 y 1343); Inventory of liturgical objects and Tabernacle books that Gonzalo de Aguilar received to use in his chapel (1351); Inventory of liturgical objects and Tabernacle books that Vasco Fernández of Toledo received for his use (1354); Library Inventory compiled by canon Rodríguez Durazno (1455); Inventory of the Toledo Library held at El Escorial ( 16th century); Library Inventory compiled by librarian Cristóbal Palomares (1591); Library Inventory compiled by Juan Bravo de Acuña, canon (1604); Library Inventory made by Francisco Morejón, treasurer, during the visit by Archbishop Sandoval y Rojas (1605); Inventory-Memorandum of the books in the Chapter Library and received by successive librarians (1624-1818); and Inventory of choir books and music works belonging to the Holy Primate Cathedral Church of Toledo, which are kept in the place called the ‘Music Deposit’ (mid-18th century).

Ancillary Reference Library

The Ancillary Reference Library, accessible to researchers, currently comprises around 4,000 volumes, on topics related to the collections held in the archive and chapter library; the history of the cathedral, diocese and archbishops; the history of the city of Toledo, and the history of the Church.