The Lindisfarne Gospels
What’s so special about the Lindisfarne Gospels?
First, it’s one of the most magnificent biblical manuscripts from the Dark Ages.
Second, most medieval manuscripts were usually produced by a team of scribes and illustrators, but this was written and decorated by a single gifted artist named Eadfrith.
And, third, it contains the earliest existing English translation of any portion of the Bible.
Off the northeast coast of England is Lindisfarne, an island at high tide and connected to Britain by a causeway at low tide. It was here in about 715 AD that the monk Eadfrith created the Lindisfarne Gospels in Latin “for God and for St. Cuthbert.”
Each of the four gospels begins with a portrait of the writer—Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John—followed by a “carpet page”—a full page of intricate geometrical design—and then an initial page of text with elaborate decoration. It is an astonishingly beautiful work of art. Eadfrith used forty-two different colors and planned his designs by sketching them on the back of the vellum and then holding them up to a light source to ink the design on the correct side.
Two hundred years later, Aldred, who described himself as an unworthy and most miserable priest, inserted in red ink between the lines of Latin an Old English translation of the gospels. This is the earliest existing English translation of any portion of the Bible.
Viking raids forced the monks to abandon their island in 875. They took with them the body of Saint Cuthbert and, presumably, the Lindisfarne Gospels. According to legend, the dead Saint Cuthbert revealed to one of the monks that he wanted his body to rest in Durham, where the beautiful Durham Cathedral was later built to house his shrine.
In the sixteenth century, the book was seized by commissioners of King Henry VIII and taken to the Tower of London. The Lindisfarne Gospels is currently in the British Library.
You can view 40 selected pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels at the British Library site under “Pinnacle of Anglo-Saxon art.” You may have to upload software from the British Library site to view this.