Saturday, December 8, 2018

Old News: St. Cuthbert's Gospel - Church Record Sunday

What news isn't old if we're posting about an ancestor?  But this news is less than seven years old so, in a sense, new old news.  Earlier this year I wrote a post about St. Cuthbert, his travels after death, and why there are so many churches named after him in Northumberland.  All interesting history, especially because I have at least two ancestors whose burials were recorded in the books of St. Cuthbert's Church in Bedlington, Northumberland.  As I researched for that post, I missed some interesting news from 2012 that I just learned.

When the casket of St. Cuthbert was opened in the early 1100s, the Gospel of John was found, a book that had been placed in his casket in the late 600s.  In 2012, the British Library purchased the book.  The purchase price of £9 million is interesting to note but of even more interest to me is the fact that the book is still in good condition.  In fact, it is the oldest intact European book.

File:The St Cuthbert Gospel of St John. (formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel) is the oldest intact European book. - Upper cover (Add Ms 89000).jpg
Image in the public domain, courtesy of British Library

It looks to me to be in excellent condition, considering that it's over 1300 years old.  It measures about 4½" by 3½" -- smaller than an index card.  There's lots of detail on that leather cover.

Notes about the book from Wikimedia Commons say,
The sections of the parchment pages are linked by chain stitch (as with Coptic sewing) and the boards are also sewn on. The lower cover is decorated in a different design by another method. This manuscript copy of the Gospel of St John was produced in the North of England in the late 7th century and was buried alongside St Cuthbert on Lindisfarne, apparently in 698, and later found in the saint’s coffin at Durham Cathedral in 1104. It has a beautifully-worked original red leather binding in excellent condition, and is the only surviving high-status manuscript from this crucial period in British history to retain its original appearance, both inside and out.

My ancestors have no direct connection to this book nor St. Cuthbert himself, except having their burial records at the church named after him in Bedlington, but I'm always alert to the names and locations of buildings, towns, and cities where my ancestors' paths crossed with others.

There are several longer, more in-depth posts with additional photos at


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