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Jesuits sell ancient Gospel to British Library for £9 million

By on Thursday, 4 August 2011

The pocket-size Gospel of St John was found inside the coffin of St Cuthbert in 1104 (CNS photo/courtesy of British Library)

The pocket-size Gospel of St John was found inside the coffin of St Cuthbert in 1104 (CNS photo/courtesy of British Library)

The Jesuits have sold the historic St Cuthbert Gospel – believed the oldest intact book produced in Europe – to the British Library for £9 million.

The British Province of the Society of Jesus agreed to sell the late seventh-century Anglo-Saxon manuscript to raise funds to restore a historic church and pay for educational work in London and Glasgow, Scotland.

The book, a pocket-size Latin translation of the Gospel of St John, was found inside the coffin of St Cuthbert, bishop of Lindisfarne, when the saint’s grave was opened in 1104.

Experts believe the manuscript was placed inside the casket within 10 years of the hermit’s death in 687.

Fr Kevin Fox, spokesman for the British Province of the Society of Jesus, announced the sale of the Gospel last month.

“It has been our privilege to possess this book for nearly 250 years,” he said. “Now, in order to answer more of the many demands on our resources, the province trustees have decided to sell.”

He said that the British Library would ensure that the manuscript was available for people from around the world to view either directly or online.

“People will be able to see the Gospel set among the library’s other treasures of the Christian faith and of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic art,” Father Fox said.

The statement said that the Gospel was produced by monks of Wearmouth-Jarrow in northeast England.

Funds from the sale, concluded in conjunction with the auction house Christie’s, will be used to help fund Jesuit schools in London and Glasgow, pay for a new school to be founded in Africa and pay for the restoration of the 19th-century Church of St Peter, Stonyhurst, the parish that serves Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, England.

The St Cuthbert Gospel was described by the British Library as having “beautifully-worked original red leather binding in excellent condition”. The library said it is “the only surviving high-status manuscript from this crucial period in British history to retain its original appearance, both inside and out”.

The Gospel was buried alongside St Cuthbert following his death on the island of Lindisfarne off the northeast coast of England. His coffin was transferred to nearby Durham as his community attempted to escape coastal Viking raids. His grave later became a pilgrimage site.

The Gospel was discovered when St Cuthbert’s coffin was opened 400 years after his death during the dedication of a shrine in his honor at Durham Cathedral.

It was kept in the cathedral priory but when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries during the Reformation the Gospel passed into the hands of a private collector in 1540.

By the 18th century, the book was in the possession of the 3rd Earl of Lichfield who gave it to Canon Thomas Phillips, who in turn presented it in 1769 to the Jesuits.

The book has been on loan to the British Library since 1979. It was often displayed in the Sir John Riblat Gallery.

The Jesuits approached the library in 2010 with an offer of the first option to acquire the Gospel for the public.

  • Jamie MacNab

    What a marvellous experience it would be to hold and read this book.  I suspect that we would indeed see with the same eyes as Cuthbert, but understand with a different mind. 

  • lloron74

    …meow…(…the book and its condition are incredible!…)

  • Anonymous

    Rather than sell this magnificent book I think they should read it, then read the bible, then send it to San Francisco University so the Jesuits there can read it, then read the bible and then stop work on junk like the ‘Expandiing Circle’ and presentations of the Vagina Monologues.  Most of the Jesuits have lost the faith, if you think I’m kidding check out the following link:

  • Veritas

    They don’t have the right to release this relic to the secularists. This is the legacy of the Church! §1190 §1 – “It is absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics.” §1190 §2 – “Relics of great significance and other relics honored with great reverence by the people cannot be alienated validly in any manner or transferred permanently without the permission of the Apostolic See.” Were that Saint Ignatius of Loyola were here – he’d set these heretics right. 

  • D Paul

    The Jesuits indeed are out there in “no man’s land”.  They are committed to total equality of the sexes and many in influential positions are gay.  Malachi Martin wrote plenty on the topic.  He even stated that a certain amount of this problem is actively Satanic. 

  • Roberto Hope

    If fifteen centuries in a damp climate did so little damage to this treasure, there must be some supernatural explanation for it.   Let´s pray that this sad  example does not spread to other Church institutions which own invaluable treasures made by man for the worship of God; not for the admiration of modern, faithless men.