Last night saw the launch of The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of John edited by Dr Claire Breay, Lead Curator, Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts, the British Library, and Dr Bernard Meehan, Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts, the Library of Trinity College Dublin.
The book was launched by Helen Shenton, Trinity College Librarian and College Archivist. Helen was one of the last students of Roger Powell who famously rebound the Book of Kells. Her training included constructing a perfect model of the St Cuthbert Gospel, which she brought along for the occasion.
The evening also included presentations from both of the editors including a film of a CT scan of the gospel unveiling the structure beneath the decoration on the original binding.
The St Cuthbert Gospel (formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel) is the earliest intact European book and is a landmark in the cultural history of western Europe. Now dated to the early 8th century, it contains a manuscript copy of John’s Gospel in Latin. It retains its original binding, strikingly decorated with a vine and chalice motif. It is intimately associated with Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, being found in the saint’s coffin when it was opened at Durham Cathedral in 1104. Having been on loan to the British Library since 1979, it was bought for the national collection following a major fundraising campaign in 2011–12. It is now BL Additional MS 89000.
This new collection of essays is the most substantial study of the manuscript since the 1960s. It includes commentary on Cuthbert in his historical context; the codicology, script, text and medieval history of the manuscript; the structure and decoration of the binding; the Irish pocket Gospels, with which it shares several characteristics; the other relics found in Cuthbert’s coffin; and the post-medieval movements of the manuscript.