20th March 687. The Cuthbert Gospel.

The Cuthbert Gospel of S. John (the Evangelist) was buried in his tomb in 698, after the Saint’s death Today in 687.

In 1104 it was removed to repose at Durham until the Reformation, after which passing through many hands, it was acquired in 2012 for £9m, by The British Library.

Opening page of the Cuthbert Gospel, written in Latin.

It is a remarkable tale of survival as the  Northumbrian Bishop’s remains were constantly carried from place to place by monks of Cuthbert’s Lindisfarne Monastery, seeking refuge from the invading Vikings.

Why the Gospel was placed in the coffin relies on an anecdotal report by the Venerable Bede who in his life of Cuthbert recorded that Prior Boisil  recommended that he learn from him, the book  of S. John the Evangelist, the emblem and epitome of Christianity, thus it was deemed appropriate for Cuthbert to be buried with the Gospel.

The Cuthbert Gospel is the earliest surviving western binding, in a deep red-dyed, goatskin with a raised pattern of vines on the front.

Cover of the pocket sized Gospel which contains 92 leaves.

Made by tooling of the leather over cords on the board of thin birch wood with the gathering of the pages sewn into holes in the boards with flax thread.

It is a technique which can be traced back to the early Egyptian codices of the early days of Christianity. The Gospel is not distinguished by ornate ‘carpet pages’ as in the Lindisfarne Gospels, but by its simplicity.

The Book’s was traditionally kept in three leather satchels inside a box, and often, in the middle ages, worn as an amulet around the neck.

Kept at Durham until the Reformation it passed from the 3rd Lord Lichfield to The Jesuit College at Liege in 1769 until destroyed by Napoleon.

After which it finished-up at Stoneyhurst College in England, to where it was restored after being lent to the Society of Antiquities by the Jesuit, William Strickland. He ironically was buried in Old St.Pancras graveyard adjacent to the British Library, the home of the Gospel. (1)

The Cuthbert Gospel before capital letters for names, punctuation and verse numbers, is written in a small, legible, Uncial Capitals Hand, with it being obvious that the scribe had needed to make corrections.(2)

The Gospel along with the once jewel-encrusted, covered Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells are the glory of Dark Age Britain, giving a lie to any notions that it was a Dark Age for art and culture. 

(1) Strickland was a Jesuit at a time when the Society of Jesus had been suppressed all over the world.

(2) Uncial were used between the 4th-8thc by scribes to write Greek, Latin and Gothic.





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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

One response to “20th March 687. The Cuthbert Gospel.”

  1. Janet Mellor says :

    Thank you for this great blog about St Cuthbert’s Gospel. A Saint so much venerated in the north east.

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