Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Photo of the Day: The Stonyhurst Gospel

Photo from The Globe and Mail: "The St. Cuthbert Gospel, the earliest intact European book, created in the 7th century, is displayed at the British Library in London. The British Library launched a campaign [last] Thursday to try to raise the final 2.75 million pounds (4.43 US Dollars) to buy the book."

The St. Cuthbert Gospel, also known as the Stonyhurst Gospel, is a Latin version of the Gospel of John. It supposedly belonged to Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (died 687). 

As an undergraduate at Tufts, contemplating doing art history as a double-major with history (I ended up doing political theory instead), I took a wonderful (and intimate, with just eight students) course on medieval illuminated manuscripts. To this day, I hold the Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and other such masterpieces, many on display at the British Library (and formerly at the British Museum) in awe. Indeed, one of the highlights of my life -- seriously -- was seeing the Book of Kells in person in Dublin. It's unbelievably beautiful. (Below is the remarkable "Chi-Rho" page, which depicts the two-letter christogram, a symbol/abbreviation for Jesus Christ (chi and rho for "Christ").)

I don't think the Stonyhurst Gospel is illuminated -- that is, it is all text, without the elaborate and colourful artwork that makes a manuscript "illuminated" -- but it's still pretty awesome. You don't have to be a Christian (and I'm certainly not) to admire it, nor to admire the Book of Kells, which contains the four primary gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), and other books like it. All you have to do is care about books, and about their history, and about the book as art.

And when you're talking about the oldest intact European book, well, that's pretty amazing.

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