Monday, July 18, 2011

The Price of a Gospel: Saint Cuthbert's Gospel

The British library has announced a fund raising campaign to purchase Saint Cuthbert's Gospel which dates from the 7th century. The Gospel is a Latin copy of John's Gospel and was buried with Cuthbert when he died in 687. When his coffin was opened in 1104 the Gospel was found still intact and in amazingly good condition (See the side picture)

I find this story interesting not only because I am a New Testament scholar, but also because the Gospel is from Durham where I earned my PhD at the University of Durham. Cuthbert's grave is in Durham Cathedral and Lori and I visited Lindisfarne (aka Holy Island), Cuthbert's initial place of internment, several times.

The following is a short history of Saint Cuthbert's Gospel from Reuters:

St Cuthbert, also known as the "wonder worker of Britain," died in AD 687 and was buried on the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne. He was widely regarded as Britain's most popular saint up until the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

When Viking raiders invaded Lindisfarne in 875, a group of monks fled, taking Cuthbert's body with them. After seven years of traveling with the body, the monks finally buried the saint again at what became Durham Cathedral.

The book was found with him when his coffin was reopened in 1104.

The book, written in Latin, is the Gospel of John. After it was taken from the coffin it was placed in a new shrine behind the altar of Durham Cathedral.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England by Henry VIII in the 16th century, the text passed to a series of private collectors.

The BBC also has the story and below is a video describing the campaign to purchase the Gospel as well as the British Library's plans to digitize the text and to allow it to be displayed in Durham.

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