Europe’s Oldest Book Is Saved For The Nation

£9million fundraising campaign keeps St Cuthbert’s Gospel in UK

The oldest known book in Europe, the 7th Century St Cuthbert’s Gospel is set to go on display at Durham’s Unesco World Heritage Site and the British Library in Durham, after the manuscript was saved for the nation through generous gifts from the Art Fund and the single largest contribution to the campaign.  A £4.5million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) together with major gifts from the Art Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation and the Foyle Foundation has made this purchase possible. The first display in Durham is anticipated to be in July 2013 in Durham University’s Palace Green Library when the Lindisfarne Gospels will also be exhibited on a three-month loan from the British Library. The manuscript copy of the Gospel of St John, the St Cuthbert Gospel was produced in the North East of England in the late 7th Century and was placed in St Cuthbert’s coffin on Lindisfarne, apparently in 698.The Gospel was discovered in the saint’s coffin at Durham Cathedral in 1104. Its  red-leather binding is original and in excellent condition. The book is the only surviving high-status manuscript from this crucial period in British history to retain its original appearance, both inside and out. The Gospel, which is a manuscript copy of the Gospel of St John, is the earliest intact European book and is intimately associated with Cuthbert, one of Britain’s foremost saints.
Professor Chris Higgins, vice chancellor of Durham University, said: “This is a rare gem and an extraordinarily precious piece of heritage for the nation. I am delighted that the fundraising campaign has been so successful. “Durham University is proud to partner with the British Library and Durham Cathedral in the conservation, display and interpretation of the St Cuthbert Gospel, the oldest and one of the most important of all western manuscripts, and we look forward to it being displayed on our UNESCO World Heritage Site for the public and for scholarly study and interpretation.
“The university and cathedral house some of the most important collections of early books and manuscripts, visited by researchers and scholars from around the world.“Partnerships such as the one we have with the British Library will enable us to enhance scholarship and the wider appreciation of the important role that Durham and the region have in the development of England’s remarkable written heritage.”The £9million purchase price for the Gospel was secured following the largest and most successful fundraising campaign in the British Library’s history.

In recent years the Gospel has been displayed closed to show the outstanding decorated cover. Following the recent conservation assessment, it is now on display open for the first time in the Library’s St Pancras building. Two pages of the text of St John’s Gospel will be shown until the display in the front hall closes on 17th June.

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