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7th Century manuscript to be exhibited in Durham following £9m fundraising campaign

(14 July 2011)

The St Cuthbert Gospel

One of the world's most significant books will in future be exhibited regularly in the North East and London following a major fundraising campaign announced today by the British Library.

A partnership of the region's heritage and culture leaders has welcomed today's public announcement by the British Library of the fundraising campaign to acquire the highly significant St Cuthbert Gospel. A partnership agreement has been reached to share the display of the St Cuthbert Gospel on a 50:50 basis between the British Library and Durham's UNESCO World Heritage Site. The agreement also allows for the possible display of the Gospel at other locations in the north-east in the future.

Created in the 7th Century and intimately associated with one of Britain's foremost saints and the establishment of English Christianity, the Gospel, formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel, is the earliest surviving intact European book.

The St Cuthbert Gospel complements the Lindisfarne Gospels book, also strongly linked to St Cuthbert, which is planned for exhibition in Durham in 2013, on a three-month loan from the British Library.

This 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 buried alongside St Cuthbert on Lindisfarne, apparently in 698AD, and later found in the saint's coffin at Durham Cathedral in 1104.  It has a beautifully-worked original red leather binding in excellent condition, and is the only surviving high-status manuscript from this crucial period in British history to retain its original appearance, both inside and out.

The British Library's fundraising campaign to acquire the St Cuthbert Gospel for the nation has already received a huge boost thanks to a £4.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Foundation (NHMF) - the largest single grant for a heritage acquisition in the British Library's history. Other generous benefactors and charitable trusts have also pledged significant funding in recognition of the importance of the book to Britain. The Library needs to secure the full purchase price of £9 million by March 31 next year.

Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, and The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, the Dean of Durham, have been involved in confidential discussions for several months in partnership with the British Library to support the acquisition of the Gospel and to agree the commitment to display the book regularly in the North East.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Durham University, Durham Cathedral, and the British Library paves the way for future opportunities based on a 50 per cent share of the display of the St Cuthbert Gospel on the Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site or at other locations to be agreed in the North East, once the acquisition has been completed. 

Announcing the fundraising campaign, the Chief Executive of the British Library, Dame Lynne Brindley, said: "The St Cuthbert Gospel is an almost miraculous survival from the Anglo-Saxon period and I am delighted to announce this fundraising campaign. We are particularly pleased with the innovative display partnership developed with our partners in the region, which is the latest milestone in the increasingly strong and constructive engagement between the British Library, Durham University and Durham Cathedral." 

The Very Reverend  Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, added: "This wonderful book links us directly to the Saxon Christianity of the North of England, and to the North's best-loved saint, Cuthbert himself.  Durham Cathedral owes its very existence to him, and we prize not only his memory, but also the treasures associated with him here at the Cathedral such as his pectoral cross and portable altar. 

"I wholeheartedly welcome and support the campaign to save this book for the nation, for it is a vital part of our cultural and spiritual heritage.  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.  We are in the British Library's debt for having taken this initiative.  We must make sure it succeeds."   

Professor Chris Higgins also welcomed the British Library announcement in London: "This is a rare gem and an extraordinarily precious piece of heritage for the nation. Durham University is proud to partner with the British Library and Durham Cathedral in the conservation, display and interpretation of the oldest and one of the most important of all western manuscripts.

"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. Together with Ushaw College in County Durham with whom the University has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding to preserve its important collection of ancient books and artefacts, and through closer working with the British Library, we will enhance scholarship and the wider appreciation of the role of Durham and the North East in the development of England's remarkable written heritage."

Roberta Blackman-Woods, City of Durham MP, said: "I am delighted for the people of Durham and all those across the North East - and all visitors to the North East - that a book which has such significance to our region's heritage and culture will be secured. The British Library has been exceptionally generous in developing an innovative 50/50 display partnership with institutions in Durham, in recognition of the cultural, religious and historical resonance that St Cuthbert has for the North East."

The St Cuthbert Gospel and the Lindisfarne Gospel book are two of the most important books in the world which strongly reflect the North East's Christian and written heritage. Their display in the North East reflects the partnership between the British Library, Durham University and Durham Cathedral.

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