British Library launches £9 million bid to save the 7th century Gospel of St John

By Culture24 Reporter | 15 July 2011
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A photo of a hand holding a bible
The Gospel of St John has sparked a £9 million fundraising drive© The British Library Board
A Gospel which is the earliest surviving intact European book will return to Durham Cathedral if the British Library can raise £9 million in eight months to keep it in Britain.

The 7th century manuscript copy of the Gospel of St John lay beside the Saint for 400 years after being buried alongside him in 698 AD.

Bound in an ornate red leather cover, it was spotted in his coffin at the Cathedral, in 1104, and has drawn the largest single grant for a heritage investment in the Library’s history with a £4.5 million award from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

“The St Cuthbert Gospel is an almost miraculous survival from the Anglo-Saxon period,” said Dame Lynne Brindley, the Library’s Chief Executive, calling it a “beautifully preserved window” on a “rich, sophisticated culture” preceding the Norman Conquest.

“The National Heritage Memorial Fund grant, amounting to half of the purchase price, helps us get our fundraising campaign off to the best possible start.”

The Library has been given first option to buy the Gospel by Christie’s, who are selling it on behalf of the Society of Jesus (British Province).

It has been on-loan to the London venue since 1979, regularly going on show in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery.

“The Cuthbert Gospel is an extraordinary piece of our heritage,” said Dame Jenny Abramsky, the Chair of the Memorial Fund, who admitted her board had used emergency reserve funds to support the “absolutely unique survival.”

“We're delighted that our grant will bring the British Library's aspiration to secure it for the nation a substantial step closer."

Experts and curators settled on the asking price, and a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between leaders at the Durham World Heritage Site and the library to allow both institutions to share their precious potential exhibit. The agreement is expected to provide a framework for future projects between the organisations.

“This wonderful book links us directly to Saxon Christianity of the north of England, and to the north’s best-loved saint, Cuthbert himself,” explained Reverend Michael Sadgrove, the Dean of Durham.

“Durham Cathedral owes its very existence to him, and we prize not only his memory, but also the treasures associated with him here at the Cathedral such as his pectoral cross and portable altar.

“It is a vital part of our cultural and spiritual heritage. The Gospel speaks powerfully about Northumbria’s golden age, whose spiritual vision, intellectual energy and artistic achievement continue to inspire us today.

“We are in the British Library’s debt for having taken this initiative and must make sure it succeeds.”
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