The St Cuthbert Gospel, a 7th century manuscript copy of the Gospel of St John, has joined the British Library collection following the most successful fundraising campaign in the library's 39-year history.
This rare document is the oldest European book to have survived undamaged. It was placed in St Cuthbert's coffin on Lindisfarne, on the North East coast of England, in 698, and found in 1104 when the saint was exhumed in order to be placed in a new shrine.
"To look at this small and intensely beautiful treasure from the Anglo-Saxon period is to see it exactly as those who created it in the 7th century would have seen it," said chief executive of the British Library Dame Lynne Brindley. "The exquisite binding, the pages, even the sewing structure survive intact, offering us a direct connection with our forebears 1300 years ago."
The St Cuthbert Gospel is now on display at the British Library in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, and will be shown open for the first time following a conservation review led by the British Library and international specialists.
To celebrate the new acquisition, the library has unveiled a new exhibition around the creation and history of the manuscript, which has also been fully digitised and is available for free on the British Library website.
The £9 million necessary to secure the purchase include a £4.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, gifts from the Art Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation, and the Foyle Foundation, as well as important donations from charitable trusts and individual donors.
The acquisition involved a formal partnership between the British Library, Durham University, and Durham Cathedral. Display of the St Cuthbert Gospel will be shared equally between London and the North East. It will be shown in Durham for the first time in the July 2013 at Durham University's Palace Green Library.
"For the people of Durham and North East England, this is a most treasured book," said the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham. "Buried with Cuthbert and retrieved from his coffin, it held a place of great honor in Durham Cathedral Priory. The place in the Cathedral where it was kept in the middle ages is still the home of our unique manuscript collection."