Saturday, June 16, 2007

Losing the Stonyhurst Gospel

Christopher Howse has an essay in the Telegraph about the Stonyhurst Gospel, an early manuscript copy of "The Gospel of St John, which had been put in St Cuthbert's tomb after his burial in 697. It is a beautifully written vellum manuscript, with the oldest surviving leather binding in Europe. And in 1809 it was nowhere to be found."

The book was placed in Cuthbert's coffin when his remains were installed at Lindisfarne's high altar in 698; in 1104, when Cuthbert moved to Durham Cathedral, the book was removed from the coffin and stored with the rest of the relics. After the sacking of the cathedrals during the time of Henry VIII, "the little Gospel book came into the possession of an Oxford antiquary. It was given by the 3rd Lord Lichfield to the Jesuit College at Liège in 1769." This institution, transplanted to Lancashire after the French Revolution, became Stonyhurst College.

William Strickland, a cleric and college administrator, borrowed the Gospel in 1806, lending it to the Society of Antiquaries. Three years later, its location was unknown, prompting the College to send Strickland a letter urging him to "ask the Society of Antiquaries precisely when they had returned the book to him 'which might lead to a recollection of the occasion by which you sent it back'. The suggestion worked; the book was found, and is now on loan to the British Library at St Pancras."


[h/t Shelf:Life]