LONDON – The British Library has paid 9 million pounds (U.S. $14.3 million) to acquire the St. Cuthbert Gospel, a remarkably well-preserved survivor of seventh-century Britain described by the library as the oldest European book to survive fully intact.
The palm-size book, a manuscript copy of the Gospel of John in Latin, was bought from the British branch of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), the library said today.
The book measures 3.8 inches by 5.4 inches and has an elaborately tooled red leather cover. It comes from the time of St. Cuthbert, who died in 687, and it was discovered inside his coffin when it was opened in 1104 at Durham Cathedral.
The British Library said the artifact is one of the world’s most important books.
“To look at this small and intensely beautiful treasure from the Anglo-Saxon period is to see it exactly as those who created it in the seventh century would have seen it,” said the library’s chief executive, Lynne Brindley.
“The exquisite binding, the pages, even the sewing structure survive intact, offering us a direct connection with our forebears 1,300 years ago,” she added.
Cuthbert’s coffin arrived in Durham after monks had removed it from the island of Lindisfarne, 330 miles north of London, to protect the remains from Viking raiders in the ninth and 10th centuries.
The book will be displayed at the British Library in London and then in Durham, northeast England, next year.