The St. Cuthbert Gospel is the oldest surviving European book, and thus one of the most important volumes in the world. The Gospel is a Latin pocket edition of John that was originally placed in the Cuthbert’s tomb some time after his death in 687. The book most likely did not belong to Cuthbert, but was created at Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Abbey to be placed in his coffin when his body was translated to Lindisfarne at the end of the 7th century.
After an intense fundraising campaign, the British Library has acquired the book from British Province of the Society of Jesus for £9 million.
Announcing the acquisition, the Chief Executive of the British Library, Dame Lynne Brindley, said: “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 7th century would have seen it. The exquisite binding, the pages, even the sewing structure survive intact, offering us a direct connection with our forebears 1300 years ago. Its importance in the history of the book and its association with one of Britain’s foremost saints make it unique, so I am delighted to announce the successful acquisition of the St Cuthbert Gospel by the British Library. This precious item will remain in public hands so that present and future generations can learn from it.”
The St Cuthbert Gospel formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel, has been on long-term loan to the British Library since 1979 and regularly on-view in the Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. The Library was approached in 2010 by Christie’s, acting on behalf of the Society of Jesus (British Province), and was given first option to acquire the Gospel for the UK public – a unique opportunity to make the Gospel a permanent part of the national collection. Having sought opinions from a range of independent experts as well as the Library’s own curatorial specialists, a price of £9 million was agreed. Fundraising commenced at the beginning of last year and the campaign was publicly announced last July (see British Library announces £9m campaign to acquire the St Cuthbert Gospel – the earliest intact European book).
Having acquired the Gospel, the British Library is now able to invest in its long-term preservation, as well as transforming the possibilities for improved access to the item through digitisation and display.