£9m appeal has been launched by the British Library to buy the oldest intact book in Europe, a palm-sized leather-bound copy of the gospels buried 1,300 years ago in the coffin of Saint Cuthbert.
The Cuthbert Gospel, on loan to the library since 1979, is regarded as of such importance that the National Heritage Memorial Fund has raided its reserves to offer a £4.5m grant, half the purchase price and the largest single acquisition grant in the library’s history. The Art Fund and the Garfield Weston foundation have each promised £250,000.
If the appeal succeeds, the library has agreed the gospel will be displayed half the time at Durham cathedral, where it was found with the body of the saint when his coffin was reopened in 1104.
The gospel is still in its original 7th century leather cover, which has survived in perfect condition.
It is believed to have been buried with St Cuthbert on Lindisfarne in 698, and survived the journey when the monks fled from Viking raids two centuries later, taking with them their treasures, the body of the Northumbrian saint, and sacred objects he had owned. After several stops, and more raids, the saint and his gospel were buried in what became the great cathedral of Durham.
Lynne Brindley, the chief executive of the library, described it as: “An almost miraculous survival from the Anglo-Saxon period, a beautifully preserved window into a rich, sophisticated culture that flourished some four centuries before the Norman conquest.”
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