Friday, April 20, 2012

St. Cuthbert Gospel

 What I'd like to know is why they get to handle this without wearing gloves.

The following article is from the

 "A seventh-century gospel discovered in a saint's coffin more than 900 years ago, and the oldest European book to survive fully intact, has been acquired by the British Library for £9m.

The manuscript copy of the Gospel of St John, called the St Cuthbert Gospel, was produced in the north-east of England in the late seventh century and placed in the saint's coffin on the island of Lindisfarne, probably in 698.

His remains were carried to the mainland when the monks and people of the island fled Viking invaders, and ended up in Durham where the coffin was opened in 1104 and the gospel discovered.

Cuthbert's body was reburied in the Norman cathedral there and became a focal point for pilgrims.

'It is undoubtedly one of the world's most important books,' said Scot McKendrick, head of history and classics at the British Library.


'Most people who know about books know about the St Cuthbert Gospel. The staggering fact is that we don't have a European book that looks as it did when it was made before this. It's quite astonishing.'

According to the British Library, which has had the gospel on long-term loan since 1979 and exhibited it regularly, it will be displayed open temporarily after conservationists and curators deemed it safe to do so.

The manuscript features an original red leather binding in excellent condition and is the only surviving "high status" manuscript from this period of British history to retain its original appearance both inside and out.


In 2010, the library was approached by auction house Christie's, which was acting on behalf of the gospel's owner, the Society of Jesus (British Province), or Jesuits.

The library was given first option to purchase the manuscript, which was valued at £9m.

Scot said that Jesuits came into possession of the prized artefact in the middle of the 18th century. The Earl of Lichfield gave it to a priest who in turn passed it to Jesuits living in Europe. They later brought it to Stonyhurst, north-west England, which explains why it was formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel.

Little is known of the manuscript's whereabouts between 1104 and the 1700s, although academics assume it was kept in Durham for much of that time.


Half of the price of the gospel came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, established in 1980 to safeguard works of art and wildlife havens for the nation. Other funding came from the Art Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation and the Foyle Foundation, as well as donations from unnamed charitable trusts and individuals.

The book will be displayed to the public in London and the north-east after a formal partnership was agreed between the British Library, Durham University and Durham Cathedral.

Durham Cathedral photo

The British Library has opened a special display exploring the creation, travels and "near-miraculous" survival of the gospel across 13 centuries. It has also been digitised* and made freely available online."  - Article from the, April 17, 2012

*From the British Library Digitised Manuscripts, St. Cuthbert's Gospel
which is found on the British Library Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts BLOG. 

And now, just a little selection of text from the British Library Digitised Manuscripts page which ought to lure you over to their site for more!

"Binding: original, late-7th-century binding, described in Brown, The Stonyhurst Gospel of Saint John, pp. 13–23, 45–55 (technical description of the binding by Roger Powell and Peter Waters). The boards are of the same size as the leaves, almost certainly of birch, about 2.5 mm thick and cut on the quarter. Shallow slots were cut in both faces of the boards from the holes to the back edges to accommodate the thread, which was made of flax and with an S-twist. There were neither thongs or cords; thread alone joins the boards to the sections, and the sections to each other. Covered in leather (either goat- or sheep-skin), stained a deep crimson on the outer surface, and about 1 mm thick. The leather was stuck to the board and moulded over the foundations of the design while it was still damp. The decoration of the boards was enriched by tooling and colouring lines on the surface, with the tip of a fine folder or a stylus. The upper board is decorated with a rectangular frame, with interlace patterns in the upper and lower fields and a larger central field containing a chalice from which stems project, terminating in a leaf or bud and four fruits. The lines of the upper board are filled in bright yellow, pale yellow and blue-grey. The lower board has a rectangular panel containing two step-pattern crosses, constructed on a grid, with the lines filled alternately with bright yellow and blue-grey."

And isn't that the coolest thing!!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

'Apple Peel'
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Denise said...

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Judy,
Just stopping by to wish you a lovely weekend, I won't be back online until at least Monday evening at some stage :) A very interesting post.


Paulette said...

Hmmmm, good point about the gloves. Nice post, thanks for the interesting information.

Yenta Mary said...

Oh, it's so beautiful! And what a story! Movies aren't as interesting as this book's history ... :)

Debra Hawkins said...

The gloveless hands were KILLING me! You'd think if they went to all the trouble to make sure they could display it open that they would make people wear gloves!

Carla from The River said...


Heide at ApronHistory said...

Wow! It is incredible! I did see a little blurb about it somewhere, but you have found a lot more detail.
Have to go check the link out.

J_on_tour said...

Lovely post.
I'm another who doesn't understand the gloveless image. Although the quality of the written material is never in doubt, the condition and style of the binding is amazing and most surprising.
Unlike the problems of fighting over the displaying of the Lindisfarne Gospels, It's nice to hear that Durham Cathedral are going to be allowed to get the chance to display this work (probably in the crypt ...Treasures of St Cuthbert exhibition).

Heide at ApronHistory said...

Ohhh! Just had to comment again. The close up images of the pages are amazing! To think it was written all be hand! It is an wonderful treasure.

Cranberry Morning said...

...and you noticed that you can zoom in on them? Isn't that amazing!

Empty Nester said...

Indeed it is the coolest thing! LOVE the cover of the book. So beautiful!

Unknown said...

It is! I would have to brush up on my old English...I remember having to learn to read the opening to the Canterbury Tales in Old English...Wan that Aprile with the shours sota... the draght of March had perced to the roote....or something that sounded like that!

Chatty Crone said...

Very interesting - I loved that. I am reading the book of John now with the Barley Commentaries. sandie

laurie said...

That was really interseting.You always have such great posts!

Its So Very Cheri said...

Hey my name is Cheri from Its So Very Cheri (and the DIY Club).

Before I forget --I have a party that goes up every Sunday - It's Party Time (it's open all week). I also have a party every Wed. Linky follower Party Hop.

The DIY Club has a monthly party.

Now the original reason for my visit--someone suggested your blog because you have gluten free recipes. Where do I find those recipes?


ruthie said...

What a beautiful book! Thanks for sharing it's history.

debbie bailey said...

Extremely cool! Maybe it'll be in London next time I go. I'd love to see it AND Lindisfarne.

Anonymous said...

I went to see St Cuthbert's Gospel at the British Library today. At present it is displayed closed, but you do get to see the leather binding which is in extraordinarily good condition. It is displayed alongside two manuscript copies of Bede's 'Life of St Cuthbert'. It was good to see the gospel book 'in the flesh' but I have to say that it is Codex Sinaiticus which always leaves me a little emotional, knowing its importance as the source for every subsequent translation of the Bible.


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