UK library acquires key early gospel for $14 million

Thu May 17, 2012 12:20pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - 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 $14 million (nine million pounds), the library said on Tuesday.

The manuscript copy of the Gospel of St. John called the St. Cuthbert Gospel was produced in the northeast of England in the late 7th century and was 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 new 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.   Continued...