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Last chance to see the Lindisfarne Gospels

One of the greatest books ever produced, the Lindisfarne Gospels, is at the Laing Art Gallery until the 3rd December and if you havent been yet I'd recommend it. The four gospel books recount the life of Christ as told by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and are written in Latin. An Old English translation was added between each line around the 950s. Unbelievably, they were the work of one man, Bishop of Lindisfarne, Eadfrith who also did the beautiful illuminations and was a tremendous show of devotion. It is estimated that it took around 10 years to complete

The Lindisfarne Gospels created in the 700s by Bishop Eadfrith

If you don't know the story, then read on - it is incredible! So, in 634, Oswald, son of King of Northumbria, decides to return to his homeland having been brought up a Christian on the island of Iona, North West Scotland. He raises an army and erects a cross to pray for deliverance against the heathen Mercians. The battle of Heavenfield ensues and Oswald wins and becomes the new King. Immediately he invites a monk, Aidan, to come from Iona and set up a monastery on the windy island whilst converting many Northumbrians to Christianity. When Aidan dies in 651, Cuthbert sees a light and decides to become a monk himself. He is invited in at Melrose Abbey and becomes the man everybody wants to see because of his unique erudition and in his lifetime many miracles are attributed to him. He becomes the Bishop of Lindisfarne and builds his own hermitage on Inner Farne. When he dies in 687, his fellow monks bury him in the Lindisfarne monastery only for his coffin to be lifted up eleven years later with a view of creating a reliquary. However, when the monks open the coffin they find an intact, incorrupt body, he looks like he had died the day before. So instead they build a new coffin (On show at Durham Cathedral's museum). The news of this spreads like wildfire and leads to Cuthbert becoming a site of pilgrimage making Lindisfarne very rich. it is during this time that the Lindisfarne gospels are created. Repeatedly, Lindisfarne is raided by the Vikings and eventually the monks have to leave in 875, taking the gospels book and coffin of Cuthbert. Seven years of wandering, followed by 112 years in Chester-le-Street they have to travel, this time to Durham. The Gospel book travelled with them and there is even a legend that the book miraculously fell into the Irish Sea yet was recovered, dry and intact.

An incised page with wonderful Celtic knotwork

In 1995, the monks were forced to leave Chester-le-Street and settled in the fortress of Hill Island or Dunholme, more commonly known today Durham. Here they built three churches before being superceded by the new overlords: the Normans (ironically these had their roots in the Vikings, as Normans means Norse-men). They decided to continue with the Cuthbert Cult and built arguably the greatest Cathedral on Planet Earth. In just 40 years they build a lasting memorial to the incorrupt miracle-working Saint Cuthbert.

St.Cuthbert Gospel (Image Courtesy of British Library - mine was blurred ;-( )

In addition, the exhibition holds a number of medieval artefacts including the Gospel book above from the early 8th century and is the earliest European book with an original intact binding. It was found inside the coffin of St.Cuthbert when it was opened in 1104 at Durham Cathedral and is made of red goat skin.

Berchtgyd's grave marker 7th-8th century. From Durham Cathedral Museum

Stone cross head, 800AD Rothbury

One of the finest surviving examples of an Anglo-Saxon sculpture, decorated with biblical scenes and many carved figures. It was found in Rothbury Church, Northumberland.

A gold and garnet Anglo-Saxon cross found in the Staffordshire Hoard. Found with over 4,500 items buried around 475AD

To book a tour with me in the North East England contact me here

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