The Bartlett Collection takes its place

At a reception on Monday evening last week (17th June), the RCB Library marked the installation of the Bartlett Collection (being the library of the late Canon Professor John Bartlett) in the former College of Education Chapel which is now part of the Church of Ireland campus at Rathmines.  Many of John’s former students and colleagues from the Church of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin were in attendance along with two of his three daughters – Penny and Helen with grandchildren – and his widow, Olivia.

The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell, received the collection on behalf of the Representative Church Body and along with the Librarian and Archivist Dr Susan Hood and Mrs Bartlett paid warm tributes to Professor Bartlett, who was Principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College from 1989 to 2001.

Professor Bartlett played a significant role in the theological life of both Trinity College Dublin and the wider Church of Ireland for over six decades.  During his lifetime he amassed an important collection of over 4,000 volumes, covering themes on all aspects of theology, especially Old Testament studies, as well as archaeology, classics, literature, philosophy, travel, local and general history, cartography and maps.

Before he died in 2022, he generously arranged for the collection to be gifted to the RCB.

“In many ways, we in the Church of Ireland owe John a debt we can never repay,” Archbishop McDowell remarked, “for the work that he did in the Theological College, at the time in which he did it.”  On his literary depth, the Primate found that “when he asked you what you had been reading, it was very rare that what you had been reading hadn’t already [been read by John] and [he] was able to have a discussion with you about it.”

His scholarship and clarity of writing went together.  He always had Greek and Hebrew testaments in his stall in the college chapel, for following the lectionary, while the archaeological findings of his early career had “an enormous impact on how he understood the Hebrew Scriptures” as a human text that involved the people of the time.

Dr Hood recalled Professor Bartlett’s meeting with Library staff to discuss the legacy of his books and acknowledged the help of RCB Chief Officer David Ritchie in accommodating them in the former chapel building.  The Library additionally holds the archive of his personal papers, including sermons, a significant set of maps, research notes and related material.

In one scrapbook of his excavations in Jerusalem in 1962, John reflected how this particular journey “would have a profound effect on his subsequent career – revealing the origins of his interest in Holy Land studies, but also his understanding of the land and the peoples of Palestine,” Dr Hood noted.  “And in his later life, having discovered the stones of that place, he would become a champion for protecting the ‘living stones’ – the descendants of the earliest Christians and others living in what is today’s Holy Land.”

In 1931, the Library’s founding benefactor Rosamond Stephen donated some 5,000 books to the RCB without knowing what the Library would become: a collection of over 70,000 printed books together with the Church’s ever-growing archives.  “The size of John’s gift almost matches that initial bequest,” Dr Hood added, “so what has been achieved in this space by creating the Bartlett Collection might be symbolic of what one day might evolve collectively here in this place for the different administrative and educative strands of the Church.”

The building has been fitted with bespoke book shelving to house the collection designed by timber craftsman Shane Duffley, while its potential for other events was demonstrated by the exhibit of the extensive published works by John Bartlett on display, alongside original materials documenting his archaeological expeditions in Israel/Palestine during the early 1960s.

Mrs Bartlett thanked the Library staff “for the enormous amount of work that bringing this evening about has taken.”  She had also witnessed her late husband’s “love of Palestine and the Palestinian people”, recalling how he had memorably met one of his co-workers many years afterwards.

“Solidly-researched scholarship meant so much to John,” she added.  “He was very much known abroad, both for his knowledge of biblical archaeology and Old Testament scholarship”, and often stunned by the warmth of greeting when people met him for the first time and remembered his writing many years after those books were published.  Moments of academic discovery, not to mention publishing the Gospels in Iambic pentameter, brought out his great sense of humour.

“John never trumpeted his achievements,” Mrs Bartlett said in conclusion: “He lived life following the words in Micah chapter 6 verse 8: ‘… What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’”


Archbishop John McDowell speaks at the launch of the Bartlett Collection.

Professor John Bartlett. Credit: Canon Dr Ginnie Kennerley.

Speakers at the launch of the Bartlett Collection (from left): Dr Susan Hood, Librarian & Archivist at the RCB Library; Mrs Olivia Bartlett; and Archbishop John McDowell, Primate of All Ireland.

Professor Bartlett’s published works on display.

A scrapbook with scenes from the 1962 expedition to the Holy Land.