Chester Beatty Library. Museum in Dublin, Ireland

Chester Beatty Library

Museum in Dublin, Ireland

Chester Beatty Library Photo © Bruce Stokes

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Chester Beatty Library

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The Chester Beatty Library is an art museum and library, located on the grounds of Dublin Castle in the city center of Dublin, Ireland. It is a fabulous museum that has been described as not only the best museum in Ireland, but also as one of the very best in Europe. The library was established in 1950 as the private collections of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, a mining tycoon.

The library’s collections are divided into two sections, Artistic Traditions and Sacred Traditions. Both exhibits provide a window to the artistic, written treasures of virtually all cultures and beliefs in the world. On display are manuscripts, drawings, prints, miniature paintings, and unique books from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and North America. The collection comprises almost three millennia of written history. Highlights are Egyptian papyrus rolls, stunning illuminated copies of the Qur’an, illustrated Bibles, and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts from Europe.

Chester Beatty Library is a major source of material for scholars studying the history of religions, particularly the Old and New Testaments. It also houses one of the world’s finest collections of artifacts from the Islamic world and the Far East. Some of the objects in the museum are literally priceless; examples are one of the first illustrated copies of Life of the Prophet and the Gospel of Mani, which is considered to be the last surviving object related to the now-extinct religion of Manichaeism.

What’s most impressive about this museum and library though, is that everything comes from Sir Beatty’s own private collection. Admission is free. Opening hours are generally between 10AM and 5PM. The library is closed on public holidays.

History

Alfred Chester Beatty was born in New York City in 1875. He disliked his first name and always signed his name as A. Chester Beatty. After graduating from Columbia University (Wikipedia Article), he moved west and began working for a mining company in Denver, Colorado. Although started at the very bottom by shoveling rocks, he proved to be industrious and soon rose to be a respected mining engineer. In 1908, he established a successful mining consultancy in New York City.

However, after his first wife died in 1911, he left his mining business in the United States and moved to London where he started another consultancy business. He had always been fascinated by minerals – hence his pursuit of a career in mining – but always by postage stamps and Chinese snuff bottles, which he collected since he was a child. After moving to London, Chester Beatty began collecting more intensively and started buying European and Persian manuscripts. He and his second wife went on a trip to Egypt in 1914, where he purchased a few decorate copies of the Qur’an in the local bazaars. He also bought a house in Cairo, where he would spend many winters.

He traveled to Asia in 1917, a trip that added Chinese and Japanese art to his collection. Chester Batty was fascinated by calligraphy, exceptional book bindings and illustrations, but also always aimed to preserve historically valuable texts.

During World War II, he helped the Allies by providing large quantities of raw materials, an act that got him knighted. The American collector moved to Dublin in 1950, where he built a library to house his entire collection. The library opened in 1954. In 1957, Chester Beatty became the first honorary citizen of Ireland.

After his death, the library was owned and managed by a Board of Trustees, which was appointed according to the will of Chester Beatty.

Collections

The Chester Beatty Library collection can be split up into three geographical sections. The Western Collection holds some of the oldest Biblical papyrus scriptures and an entire library of Manichean texts. The Biblical papyrus texts, especially, are unique and consist of earliest known copies of the Four Gospels, the Book of Revelation, the Letters of St Paul, and fragments from a very early Old Testament. Other artifacts are European prints, manuscripts and books from the Middle Ages until modern times.

The Islamic Collection is made up of 6,000 items, mostly manuscripts, but also calligraphies and small paintings. This collection boasts no less than 260 Qur’ans. The East Asian Collections is made up of Chinese albums and scrolls, textiles, and decorative artifacts; and Japanese painted scrolls, wooden prints, and other art.

Similar Landmarks

Dublin is home to several other museums and libraries. Another strongly suggested library is found in Trinity College Dublin, where you can see the legendary Book of Kells (Wikipedia Article) in the impressive Long Room. You will have to pay an admission fee there. The National Museum of Ireland is made up of four separate museums, three of which – Natural History, Archaeology, and Decorative Arts & History – are located in the Dublin city center. The National Museums are free to visit.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Dec 17, 2014

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