When we started planning for the exhibition of one of the world’s most remarkable manuscripts, we were committed to delivering an experience that could be enjoyed by people of all ages, from different walks of life and from different parts of the globe.
The page has turned, literally, and as ticket sales for the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition are now a sell-out, I am turning my attention to finding out what all the hard work has actually delivered – for those that took the risks with their time and money, for the whole team that delivered it, for Durham City, the county and for communities right across the North East of England.
Among the first stories I remember covering as a junior reporter back in the early 1990s was the campaign waged by the late John Danby and the Northumbrian Association for the Gospels to make a permanent return to their native North East.
I was working on Wearside when that campaign scored its first success with the Gospels’ exhibition in Newcastle in 1996 and was in Darlington when they made another return to Tyneside in 2000 and I didn’t manage to see them on either occasion.
Bringing the Lindisfarne Gospels to Durham has been part of my life for four years. I recall the first meeting when about fifteen people gathered round a table one April day, discussing whether there really was the potential to do this. I walked home through bluebell woods, enjoying the beauty of creation and pondering the task in front of us. Little did I know how it would take over my life.
We met in the summer of 2004 and it was love at first sight. Like thousands of other English undergraduates, I was studying for the most dreaded of exams: Anglo-Saxon history and language.
I lived in Rome, it was a scorching hot July and I was twenty. I longed for the beach but, instead, I was stuck inside memorising the names of ancient manuscripts and their whereabouts. Outrageous. Woe was me.
The Lindisfarne Gospels Durham exhibition has now been open for nearly two months and we have been welcoming over 1000 visitors each day to see the spectacular manuscripts and objects on display. One of the themes of the exhibition is the incredible journey that the Lindisfarne Gospels went on after it left Holy Island with the Community of St Cuthbert in 875AD and travelled around the region. It is a journey that has been replicated in part by the University’s Learning Team who have been travelling across the North East working with children of all ages.
While preparations for the arrival of the Lindisfarne Gospels were progressing at Palace Green Library, Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS), based at the World Heritage Site Visitor Centre on the other side of Palace Green, were laying the intellectual groundwork for the exhibition with a series of research seminars devoted to the Gospels.
Last year, that is 2012, I was given an old photograph by someone I'd known through early days in Church choir and youth club in Seaham, both of us being members of the church choir.
The blurred black and white image I found myself looking at was of a group of people making their way across the slippery causeway to Holy Island, Lindisfarne.
No ordinary group this. There was clearly some purpose in their being here. That much was obvious from the details of the person leading them.
The Lindisfarne Gospels Office overlooks Millennium Square and the Market Place and must be one of the best places in Durham to people-watch. Over the last few weeks it has been a pleasure to see wave after wave of people head from the coach park, up Saddler Street and towards the exhibition. The Market Place also seems full of people during the day and it is clear from talking to residents, traders and visitors that there is a real buzz in the City. It goes without saying that everyone in the team is delighted by what they see.
I took a journey with photographer Paul Alexander Knox, lasted 16 days and 15 nights, following an historical journey which lasted 119 years.
How do I even start to unravel the history and importance of such an epic original journey, when I’m struggling to fit all I’ve learned and experienced into a whole book? Still, here goes…