Historic manuscript sale 'vandalism'

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Oxford historian Diarmaid MacCulloch has accused the Law Society of "vandalism" over its plans to auction off a unique collection of manuscripts dating back to the 13th century.

Professor MacCulloch, presenter of BBC series A History of Christianity, said that breaking up the Mendham Collection, which has been held in Canterbury Cathedral since 1984, would undermine academic research. The Law Society of England and Wales, which was bequeathed the collection by Sophia Mendham in 1869, decided to sell 300 books from the 5,000-strong collection despite an agreement allowing the cathedral and university to keep the books until December 2013.

MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church in the University of Oxford, is among hundreds of scholars who have signed an online petition against the decision. He told The Independent: "These libraries and manuscripts are the heritage of everyone, not just of the organisations who currently own them. Collections lose their value when they are dispersed, especially when as in the case of the Mendham collection they have annotations from the person who built them up."

Canterbury Cathedral and the University of Kent were told in April that items from the collection were going to be put up for auction. Historians from the cathedral and the university claim they were given only 72 hours to put in a bid.

A Law Society spokesperson said the auction will not take place until November, allowing further time for offers to be made.