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Durham University News

News

St Cuthbert Gospel to be exhibited in Durham following £9m fundraising campaign

(17 April 2012)

One of the world's most important books will be displayed in Durham and London following a successful fundraising campaign by the British Library.

The St Cuthbert Gospel - the earliest surviving European book - will be displayed on a 50:50 basis between the British Library and Durham's UNESCO World Heritage Site after £9million was raised to secure the 7th Century manuscript.

The acquisition of the St Cuthbert Gospel by the British Library involved a formal partnership with Durham University and Durham Cathedral and an agreement that the book will be displayed to the public equally in London and Durham.

The first display in Durham is anticipated to be in July 2013 in Durham University's Palace Green Library on the UNESCO World Heritage Site when the Lindisfarne Gospels will also be exhibited on a three-month loan from the British Library.

Durham University and Durham Cathedral welcomed today's announcement by the British Library of the successful fundraising campaign to acquire the book.

The £9million purchase price for the Gospel was secured following the largest and most successful fundraising campaign in the British Library's history.

The single largest contribution to the campaign was a £4.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) together with major gifts from the Art Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation and the Foyle Foundation. In addition, the campaign received a number of significant donations from charitable trusts, foundations and major individual donors, along with gifts from members of the public.

A manuscript copy of the Gospel of St John, the St Cuthbert Gospel was produced in the North East of England in the late 7th century and was placed in St Cuthbert's coffin on Lindisfarne, apparently in 698.

The Gospel was found in the saint's coffin at Durham Cathedral in 1104. It has a beautifully worked original red leather binding in excellent condition, and it is the only surviving high-status manuscript from this crucial period in British history to retain its original appearance, both inside and out. As such, it represents a major addition to the Library's world-class collections relating to the early history and culture of Britain.

Now in public ownership, the St Cuthbert Gospel is on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery in the British Library's flagship building at St Pancras. Following a conservation review led by the British Library and involving leading international conservation and curatorial experts, the Gospel is to be displayed open for the first time in this building.

The manuscript has been digitised in full, allowing it to be made freely available online for the first time via the Library's Digitised Manuscripts webpage. See: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/

Having acquired the Gospel, the British Library is now able to invest in its long-term preservation, as well as transforming the possibilities for improved access to the item through digitisation and display.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed last year by Durham Cathedral, Durham University and the British Library established a framework for what is now a strong and constructive partnership between the three institutions. Future projects include the visit of the Lindisfarne Gospels to Durham in 2013.

Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: "This is a rare gem and an extraordinarily precious piece of heritage for the nation. I am delighted that the fundraising campaign has been so successful.

"Durham University is proud to partner with the British Library and Durham Cathedral in the conservation, display and interpretation of the St Cuthbert Gospel, the oldest and one of the most important of all western manuscripts, and we look forward to it being displayed on our UNESCO World Heritage Site for the public and for scholarly study and interpretation.

"The University and Cathedral house some of the most important collections of early books and manuscripts, visited by researchers and scholars from around the world.

"Partnerships such as the one we have with the British Library will enable us to enhance scholarship and the wider appreciation of the important role that Durham and the region have in the development of England's remarkable written heritage."

The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, said: "It is the best possible news to know that the Cuthbert Gospel has been saved for the nation.

"For the people of Durham and North East England, this is a most treasured book.  Buried with Cuthbert and retrieved from his coffin, it held a place of great honour in Durham Cathedral Priory.   The place in the Cathedral where it was kept in the middle ages is still the home of our unique manuscript collection.

"I want to pay tribute to the heroic efforts of the British Library in achieving this wonderful outcome.  It has been a privilege to be associated with this fundraising campaign.  I am pleased that the Friends of Durham Cathedral have supported it with a generous gift, and that one of the fund's donors has chosen to channel a major gift through the Cathedral. 

"As part of the plan agreed between the World Heritage Site and the British Library for its display, we look forward from time to time to welcoming this precious book back to the peninsula where Cuthbert's remains are honoured. It will be always be loved and cherished here.  I am sure Cuthbert shares our delight."

Announcing the acquisition, the Chief Executive of the British Library, Dame Lynne Brindley, said: "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 7th Century would have seen it. The exquisite binding, the pages, even the sewing structure survive intact, offering us a direct connection with our forebears 1300 years ago.

"Its importance in the history of the book and its association with one of Britain's foremost saints make it unique, so I am delighted to announce the successful acquisition of the St Cuthbert Gospel by the British Library. This precious item will remain in public hands so that present and future generations can learn from it.

 "I would like to pay tribute to the donors who have made this acquisition possible - and particularly the NHMF, who recognised the crucial importance of the St Cuthbert Gospel to our nation's heritage, and who granted a remarkable £4.5 million - the largest single grant for an acquisition that the Library has ever received.

 "We are similarly grateful to the other major donors, and the many hundreds of people who made individual donations. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure the Gospel for the nation and we were both grateful and touched that so many people felt moved to support our campaign."

A public event to celebrate the acquisition will take place at the British Library on May 15 - for details, see: www.bl.uk/whatson/events/may12/index.html

For information about exhibitions at Durham University Palace Green Library see: http://www.dur.ac.uk/library/asc/exhibitions/

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