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Stonyhurst Gospel

"Never forget that if you should ever be forced to make the choice of two evils I would much rather you left the island, taking my bones with you, than you should be a party to wickedness on any pretext whatsoever."

Bede, Life of Cuthbert

In AD 698, eleven years after his death, Cuthbert's body was disinterred, the body, as Bede relates in his hagiography, incorrupt in the grave. Wrapped in new vestments, it was placed in a decorated wooden coffin inside the church and Cuthbert venerated as a saint, his shrine at Lindisfarne (Holy Island) the most important place of pilgrimage in all England. That same year, Eadfrith became bishop of Lindisfarne. It is he who is thought to have written and illuminated the Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton, Nero D.iv), as a later colophon declares, in honor of God and St. Cuthbert, likely at the time of Cuthbert's translation.

In AD 875, there were renewed Viking raids in Northumbria, and the monks were obliged to leave Lindisfarne, taking the saint's relics and the Gospels with them. Later threats forced more peregrinations until, finally, in AD 995, they settled in Durham, where the cult flourished. A hundred years later, with the Norman Conquest, the cathedral there was begun as a shrine for the saint. When Cuthbert's tomb was opened in 1104 and the relics translated to their final resting place behind the altar in the newly-built sanctuary, a small pocket gospel was discovered inside.

Measuring only three-and-a-half by five inches, the Stonyhurst Gospel is one of the smaller manuscripts to survive from the Anglo-Saxon period (the Codex Amiatinus, in contrast, requires two men to carry it). Now in the British Library, it is a copy of the Gospel of John and was written during the abbacy of Ceolfrith at Monkwearmouth and Jarrow (as was the larger codex) and may have been a gift to the brethren at Lindisfarne on the occasion of Cuthbert's elevation.

The tooled goatskin binding is original, the earliest to survive in all of Europe. In 1827, Cuthbert's tomb was opened yet again. Inside were fragments of patterned silk, the carved wooden lid of the coffin, an ivory comb, a portable altar, and a magnificent pectoral cross of gold and garnet.

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