British Library launches “Europe’s oldest book” appeal

LONDON, (Reuters Life!) – The British Library has  launched an appeal to help it buy the oldest book in Europe, an  “almost miraculous” survival from the Anglo Saxon period over  1,000 years ago.

The small volume was buried with one of England’s most  popular saints, Saint Cuthbert at a time when the country was  being swept by continental invasions following the departure of  the Romans, and despite its age is still in perfect condition  with its original leather cover.

The Library is now just 2.75 million pounds ($4.4  million)from its target of 9 million pounds to buy the Cuthbert  Gospel.

The book was loaned to the library in 1979 and has stayed  there ever since but if the bid is successful it will stay there  permanently.  It has also been agreed that if the gospel is purchased, it  will spend half the year at Durham Cathedral, where the saint is  buried.

St Cuthbert, also known as the “wonder worker of Britain”,  died in AD 687 and was buried on the Northumbrian island of  Lindisfarne. He was widely regarded as Britain’s most popular  saint up until the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury  Cathedral in 1170.

When Viking raiders invaded Lindisfarne in 875, a group of  monks fled, taking Cuthbert’s body with them. After seven years  of travelling with the body, the monks finally buried the saint  again at what became Durham Cathedral.

The book was found with him when his coffin was reopened in  1104.

The book, written in Latin, is the Gospel of John. After it  was taken from the coffin it was placed in a new shrine behind  the altar of Durham Cathedral.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England by Henry  VIII in the 16th century, the text passed to a series of private  collectors.

Chief Executive of the British Library, Dame Lynne Brindley,  said in a statement: “The St Cuthbert Gospel is an almost  miraculous survival from the Anglo-Saxon period, a beutifully  preserved window into a rich, sophisticated culture that flourished some four centuries before the Norman Conquest.

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