British Library buys St Cuthbert Gospel from Jesuits
A fee of £9 million is paid for one of the world’s most important books
The British Library has paid £9 million to acquire the St Cuthbert Gospel, the oldest fully intact European book.
The palm-sized book (above), a manuscript copy of the Gospel of John in Latin, was bought from the British branch of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), the library said today.
The book measures 96mm x 136mm and has an elaborately tooled red leather cover. It comes from the time of St Cuthbert, who died in 687, and it was discovered inside his coffin when it was opened in 1104 at Durham Cathedral. The British Library said the artifact is one of the world’s most important books.
“To look at this small and intensely beautiful treasure from the Anglo-Saxon period is to see it exactly as those who created it in the seventh century would have seen it,” Lynne Brindley, the library’s chief executive, said. “The exquisite binding, the pages, even the sewing structure survive intact, offering us a direct connection with our forebears 1300 years ago.”
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, who wished to sell the book to raise funds for education and restoration works.
The library was given first option to purchase the manuscript, which was valued at £9 million.
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 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.