Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition

                           
"One Amazing Book – One Incredible Journey", that's how the press described The Lindisfarne Gospels which has been on display for three months in a wonderful exhibition staged on Durham’s World Heritage Site in the Palace Green Library. Even the buses were customised with the exhibition's logo.

The Lindisfarne Gospels is one of the greatest books ever created, a masterpiece of European book painting. The exhibition presents the full story of how and why it was created.  
The Lindisfarne Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John was created by one man, the monk Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne at the end of the 7th and beginning of 8th Centuries in the priory on the holy island of Lindisfarne in Northumbria. 



Lindisfarne Priory, Lindisfarne           Source Wiki Commons

They were written "in honour of God and Saint Cuthbert". Saint Cuthbert is one of the North's honoured saints who is buried in Durham Cathedral. 
It would have taken 129 calf skins to produce this book. The text was written in Latin and beautifully illustrated, bound in leather and studded with precious jewels and metals. The Lindisfarne gospels is the most amazing example of 7/8th Century Anglo Saxon Northumbrian art. In the 10th Century an English translation was added between the lines and it is the earliest surviving English translation of the gospels. 

The illustrations are amazing. The colours are still vibrant despite the passage of time. This is the page that was on display when I visited the exhibition, it's the page which begins St Mark's Gospel. 


Source Wiki Commons

Each gospel has an illustration of the saint and then a carpet page follows it. 
They are named carpet pages because they resemble oriental rugs. 

This is the carpet page for St Matthew's Gospel. The detail is absolutely wonderful.


Source - Wiki Commons

You can see more here on the British Library's website. However this doesn't give you any perception of the beauty and the amazing detail of this manuscript or how on earth one man produced it in such difficult conditions. No central heating, no electricity, and no modern equipment.
The Lindisfarne Gospels was written at a time of great upheaval in Britain and you can read more about them on the BBC websitehow due to the Viking invasions they had to leave Lindisfarne and eventually found their home in Durham Cathedral along with the body of Saint Cuthbert. The Gospels survived in almost perfect condition despite Viking raids, the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry V111, wars and the ravages of time. The book is now kept in the British Library in London and only goes out for exhibition every seven years for a maximum of three months. 
I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, seeing the wonderful collection of artefacts brought from a wide range of sources telling the amazing story of people's faith, creativity and courage.
Sadly now the exhibition has ended, the book has travelled back to the British Library in London where it is kept on display for the world's visitors to view. I must admit I feel very strongly that it should remain in Durham Cathedral with Saint Cuthbert, the saint it was created to honour. Religious books don't belong in museums, they belong in places of worship like this. 

If you ever get the chance to visit Durham Cathedral, take it! It was recently voted the UK's Number One Landmark by Tripadvisor users. It is often described as the greatest example of Romanesque architecture in Europe however the US author Bill Bryson described it as "The best cathedral on planet earth" and I agree with him!




Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

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