| LONDON, April 17
LONDON, April 17 A seventh century gospel
discovered in a saint's coffin more than 900 years ago, and the
oldest European book to survive fully intact, has been acquired
by the British Library for nine million pounds ($14 million),
the library said on Tuesday.
The manuscript copy of the Gospel of St. John called the St.
Cuthbert Gospel was produced in the northeast of England in the
late 7th century and was placed in the saint's coffin on the
island of Lindisfarne, probably in 698.
His remains were carried to the mainland when the monks and
people of the island fled Viking invaders, and ended up in
Durham where the coffin was opened in 1104 and the gospel
Cuthbert's body was reburied in the new Norman cathedral
there and became a focal point for pilgrims.
"It is undoubtedly one of the world's most important books,"
said Scot McKendrick, head of history and classics at the
"Most people who know about books know about the St.
Cuthbert Gospel. The staggering fact is that we don't have a
European book that looks as it did when it was made before this.
It's quite astonishing."
According to the British Library, which has had the gospel
on long-term loan since 1979 and exhibited it regularly, it will
be displayed open temporarily after conservationists and
curators deemed it safe to do so.
The manuscript features an original red leather binding in
excellent condition and is the only surviving "high status"
manuscript from this period of British history to retain its
original appearance both inside and out.
In 2010, the library was approached by auction house
Christie's who were acting on behalf of the gospel's owners the
Society of Jesus (British Province), or Jesuits.
The national library was given first option to purchase the
manuscript which was valued at nine million pounds.
Scot said that Jesuits came into possession of the prized
artefact in the middle of the 18th century.
The Earl of Lichfield gave it to a priest who in turn passed
it to Jesuits living in Europe. They later brought it to
Stonyhurst, northwest England, explaining why it was formerly
known as the Stonyhurst Gospel.
Little is known of its whereabouts between 1104 and the
1700s, although academics assume it was kept in Durham for much
of that time.
Half of the price of the gospel came from the National
Heritage Memorial Fund, established in 1980 to safeguard works
of art and wildlife havens for the nation.
Other major gifts came from the Art Fund, Garfield Weston
Foundation and the Foyle Foundation as well as donations from
unnamed charitable trusts and individuals.
The book will be displayed to the public equally in London
and the northeast after a formal partnership was agreed between
the British Library, Durham University and Durham Cathedral.
The British Library has opened a special display exploring
the creation, travels and "near-miraculous" survival of the
gospel across 13 centuries and it has also been digitised and
made freely available online.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White; editing by Patricia Reaney)