Executives at the British Library in London has raised more than half of the nine million pounds needed to buy the seventh century St Cuthbert Gospel from the British Province of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) before the purchase deadline expires in eight months - writes Trevor Grundy.
"The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) has awarded 4.5 million pounds, a huge boost to the campaign to acquire the gospel. The Art Fund has also generously pledged 250,000 pounds and a similar sum was donated by The Garfield Weston Foundation in recognition of the importance of the book in Britain," said Ben Sanderson, chief press officer for the British Library in London.
He continued: "The library is now in discussion with a range of other donors with a view to securing the full amount by the deadline of 31 March, 2012."
Acting on behalf of the Jesuits, the London-based auction house Christie's approached British Library executives last year. The library was given first option to acquire the 90-page goatskin-bound volume, which contains the Gospel of St. John, and make it a permanent part of the national collection. Owned by the Jesuits for the past 240 years, the book has been on loan to the British Library since 1979.
Dame Jenny Abramsky, chair of the NHMF, said the organisation was established to save items such as the St. Cuthbert's Gospel that are important to the country's heritage. "We're delighted that our grant will bring the British Library's aspiration to secure it for the nation a substantial step closer," she said.
The library has developed a display partnership with institutions in northeast England in recognition of the cultural, religious, and historical importance St. Cuthbert has for the region. For six months a year it will be available to the public at various places in northern England, including Durham Cathedral and Durham University.
The gospel was found in the coffin of St. Cuthbert, a Christian missionary and healer, when he was re-buried on Lindisfarne (Holy Island) in northern England in AD 698, eleven years after his death. When monks fled Lindisfarne because of Viking raids, they carried his coffin with them.
The gospel was placed next to his body. When their journey ended at the site where Durham Cathedral stands today, the coffin was opened and it was said the saint's body had not decomposed.
"This wonderful book links us directly to Saxon Christianity," said the Rev Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham. "Like the Lindisfarne Gospel Book, the Cuthbert Gospel speaks powerfully about Northumbria's golden age, whose spiritual vision, intellectual energy, and artistic achievement continue to inspire us today."
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]