Private library attracts scholars worldwide


In a city known for being modern with subdivisions that stretch across the coastal prairie, there is something unexpected off the beaten path in northwest Harris County.

On 35 acres of land sits what's becoming one of the leading private libraries in the country that is dedicated to theology. It is housed in what would be more at home in England than Texas. It sits next to a recreation of an ancient stone church designed in the style of one that dates back to the middle-ages in Turkey.

It is the creation of Houston Attorney Mark Lanier, who has done well as a litigator. Besides being a lawyer, a husband and father, he also puts in hours each week preparing for the Sunday school class he teaches at Champion Forest Baptist Church. The project helps him fuel his faith, and he hopes, does the same for others.

The project began several years ago when Lanier's father passed away. With 35 acres of land in the Champions area, there was enough property to create a cemetery for the Lanier family.

With that done, he had the idea of a quiet place of contemplation. What was envisioned as a family chapel turned into a space that seats more than a hundred people.

The Lanier Library would become the next project.

Mark Lanier's son teaches philosophy at Oxford University in England. When he was considering the library, Lanier asked his son to take him on a weekend tour of the university's libraries. He picked features from each of them and designed the building on his laptop on the flight home to Houston.

It is a place of wood paneling, understated lighting, and roaring fireplaces in winter, with comfortable leather chairs and desks. The only noticeable hi-tech addition are MAC desktops for the religious scholars and students who've discovered the center.

The library collection is large by any standard, with scholarly books often bought as a collection from the estates of scholars. It is becoming among the finest in the world.

It focuses on biblical studies, but goes far beyond, to Judaism, Islam, eastern religions, and Egyptology. There is also a collection of the personal letters of C.S. Lewis, and first editions of the books that have introduced him to new generations, including "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe." Lewis was himself a leading scholar and theologian.

It is a private library but open to the public. The Lanier library hosts scholars from around the world who find the research materials they need are now housed in Texas. A recent seminar at the center was an archeological debate on the Old Testament Exodus from Egypt.

Also housed at the library is a fragment from the dead-sea scrolls, and 800 year old Bible, special edition books from the Vatican. It is a museum in addition to being a place of books.

Outside, there are cobble-stoned walkways, a pond with swans, and a meandering stream. Other stone buildings give it the look of an 18th century village. Several movies have been shot on the grounds.

The next project he says may be housing in which visiting scholars can stay while they do their research.

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