'Must See' Objects

Lindisfarne Gospels Durham: one amazing book, one incredible journey was more than a book in a box.The exhibition brought together manuscripts and objects that contextualise the Lindisfarne Gospels not only as a book, an illuminated manuscript and a sacred text, but also to its unique relationship with the whole of the North-East region and especially Durham as the location of St. Cuthbert’s shrine.

Early Christianity in Britain and Ireland – the Irish and Roman traditions

Christianity spread across England through missions from the Continent and Ireland. Canterbury was the centre of the missions from Rome in 597, whilst Irish missionaries were given Lindisfarne in 635. The two groups brought different traditions, seen both in the way that the faith was practised and in the decoration of objects including books, jewellery and architecture.

The Taplow belt buckle AD 550-650, Taplow, Buckinghamshire. Gold, garnet and enamel

This is one of only three solid gold buckles known from Anglo-Saxon England. The interlacing, ribbon animal picked out in beaded wire in the centre of the buckle, has close parallels in the Lindisfarne Gospels where animals are often seen turning back to ‘bite’ their own bodies.

British Museum, M & ME 1883, 1214. 1-3 Image credit:© The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

Folded gold cross AD 650-700, Staffordshire. Gold

This cross was crumpled and folded prior to being buried along with the other items in the Hoard. It is decorated with interlacing biting beasts and also has fittings for five garnets. It has been suggested that these dark red stones were an evocation of the five wounds inflicted on Christ during the Crucifixion.

Birmingham Museums Trust and Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent K377, K462, K655-659 and K1314 Image credit line: Image courtesy of The Potteries Museums and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.

The Hexham Plaque AD 600-800, Hexham, Northumberland. Silver

A simple figure of Christ or a saint is incised into this plaque, which may have decorated a book cover, shrine or altar. Although simply rendered, the artistic style is Continental or Mediterranean in origin.

British Museum,M & ME 1858,8-14,1

Image credit:© The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

Settling the Dispute - the Synod of Whitby

Irish and Roman traditions of Christianity claculated the date of Easter differently, meaning the feast could fall on different days. This was a principal point of disagreement. King Oswy of Northumbria arranged a synod at Whitby in 664 to settle the dispute. The synod chose the Roman party, discrediting the Irish and their traditions, and depriving Lindisfarne of its status within the Anglo-Saxon Church. Many of its members, including the bishop, were unwilling to adopt the Roman tradtions and returned to Ireland, leaving the priory's numbers greatly depleted.

Cuthbert reforms Lindisfarne and becomes a Saint

In the following years, Cuthbert became bishop of Lindisfarne and worked to reform practices and rebuild the community. At his death, Cuthbert was buried on the island. When his coffin was opened eleven years later, his body was found to be miraculously intact. Stories of miracles spread and the monks worked tirelessly to promote Cuthbert's cult as a saint.

The Venerable Bede, The Life of St. Cuthbert AD 1180s, Durham

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, special copies of the Lives of important saints sometimes included illustration. There are two such volumes for Cuthbert, both of which are being shown in the exhibition. This copy of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert contains 46 beautiful pictures, each depicting an episode from his life and miracles. The fact that it was produced in the late twelfth century reflects the continuing vitality of the cult.

The British Library, Yates Thompson 26 Image credit:© British Library Board (Yates Thompson 26)

 

The Northumbrian gospel-book

Every early medieval church had at least one gospel-book, but only a few institutions would have had the resources to make them. Ariound 700, Lindisfarne, Wearmouth-Jarrow, Whitby and a few other Northumbrian centres had scriptoria - a group of monks or nuns who copied books. The work was laborious, and even simple volumes would take a significant amount of materials and time to complete.

The Cambridge-London Gospels

c.AD 725, Northumbria, probably Lindisfarne

The manuscript is very close in text, script and design to the Lindisfarne Gospels and Durham Gospels. At some point after the Reformation, the book ws split in half: the section shown in the exhibition contains the gospels of Luke and John. Although not quite as richly decorated as the Lindisfarne Gospels, this gospel-book does have similarities in having an evangelist symbol and major decorated initial at the start of each gospel.

The Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Image credit: The Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

The Arrival of the Vikings

In the last decade of the eighth century, Vikings from Scandinavia raided the British coast, seeking treasure and riches. Monasteries, with their largely undefended wealth and liturgical treasure, were prime targets: Lindisfarne was the first attacked. In the second half of the ninth century, the Vikings were back with plans to invade. In fear of this threat, the monastic community abandoned Lindisfarne in 875, taking with them Cuthbert's body, and the relics of his shrine, including the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Viking Raiders Stone Ninth century, Lindisfarne. Sandstone

The carvings on this stone reflect a feeling that the violent raids of the Vikings heralded the end of the world, with armed raiders on one side, and symbols of the Last Judgement on the other. English Heritage,81077057 Image credit: © English Heritage, Lindisfarne Priory.

The Journey around Northumbria

The Lindisfarne community owned lands throughout Northumbria, which they visited during seven years of wandering after leaving the island. Their journey led them towards the Viking stronghold of York where the Vikings were currently engaged in choosing a new leader. The community seems to have played a part in supporting Guthred, a young claimant. In return, he confirmed their right to the land between the rivers Tyne and Wear.

The Community at Chester-le-Street

In 883, the community established themselves within the old Roman fort of Chester-le-Street. It was to be the community's home for over a hundred years and was the place to which many important visitors came to pay homage to Cuthbert, including Athelstan, King of Wessex and the first King of all of England. It was at Chester-le-Street in the third quarter of the tenth century that the Anglo-Saxon gloss was added to the Lindisfarne Gospels by Aldred.

Part of a cross shaft c.AD 850-900, Chester-le-Street. Sandstone

This cross shows the adoption of Viking artistic forms by the Anglo-Saxons. The horse and rider, and circular knot were Scandinavian designs, combined here with Anglo-Saxon 'biting beasts' The name 'Eadmund' was added to the stone later, in its possible reuse as a grave marker, or to commemorate the visit of King Edmund of Wessex to Cuthbert's shrine in 945.

Anker's House Museum, 1986/01

MacRegol or Rushworth Gospels c.AD 800-822, Birr, Co. Offaly, Ireland

By the tenth century this Irish manuscript, one of the last great Insular gospel-books, was in England where it was glossed in Old English by two scribes.Their word for word rendering of the Latin text into the vernacular clearly relied on Aldred's gloss in the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Bodl.AuctD.2.19 Image credit: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

The Community Settles in Durham

After a brief time in Ripon in 995, the community settled in Durham and built a sequence of churches, starting to build the present cathedral from 1093. Cuthbert’s shrine remained in the cathedral, as a focus for pilgrimage, until the priory was dissolved by King Henry VIII at the end of 1539.

The Durham Gospels

(Part 2) c. AD 690, Northumbria, Wearmouth-Jarrow This gospel-book was made at Wearmouth-Jarrow in close imitation of an Italian model. It soon passed to Lindisfarne where the scribe Eadfrith probably used it as a model for the text and layout of the Lindisfarne Gospels. It, too, travelled with the Lindisfarne community to Chester-le-Street and then to Durham, where it has remained.

Durham Cathedral, A.II.17 Image credit: Chapter of Durham Cathedral

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The Lindisfarne Gospels

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