Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Durham in line to host the Lindisfarne Gospels

The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the world's great treasures, could be heading to Durham’s World Heritage Site in 2013.

Durham is bidding to become the UK’s 2013 City of Culture and wishes to display the Gospels during that year.

The British Library has agreed to work with Durham University, Durham Cathedral, and Durham County Council towards a 3 month loan of the Gospels, subject to the satisfactory completion of a 6-month feasibility study.

The beautifully illustrated Gospels were written in the North East around the year 700 AD were carried for two hundred years around the region together with the body of St Cuthbert before reaching Durham in 995AD where the Cathedral was founded as the final resting place for the one of England’s most important and best-loved saints. The Gospel Book remained in Durham for a further five hundred years until the Reformation.

It is intended that the Gospel Book will be displayed within the City’s World Heritage Site, which is shared by the University and Cathedral and is already home to one of the world's great collections of medieval manuscripts and treasures together with the relics of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede.

The University and Cathedral are currently working in partnership to enhance the World Heritage Site to improve access to their manuscripts and other treasures for visitors, scholars, students and staff.

Earlier this year, the British Library Board accepted the recommendations of an independent high-level group of world experts in the care of historic manuscripts that the Gospel Book could be lent to appropriate institutions for periods of not more than 3 months at a time every 7 years.

The Association of North East Councils (ANEC) agreed that Durham should host the Gospel Book on behalf of the North East.

Professor Christopher Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “I would like to thank the many people in the North East who have helped us reach this point.

“Durham, the burial place of Bede, became the focus of North East scholarship and has been one of the great centres of European learning for over a millennium. Welcoming the world-renowned Gospels to the place where they were once treasured emphasises the importance of our scholarly heritage as the University continues to shape all our futures through innovation, research and education.”

The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham Cathedral, said: “The Lindisfarne Gospel Book was written ‘in honour of God and St Cuthbert’ so it will be wonderful to see this magnificent book once more displayed alongside the relics of St Cuthbert and other treasures of that great era of Christian civilisation and endeavour.

“The visit of the Gospel Book to Durham will be a truly significant cultural and spiritual event for the North East region as a whole, for this City, and for the Cathedral.”

Sir Colin Lucas, Chairman of the British Library Board said: “The Board fully recognises the cultural and spiritual importance of the Gospels for the people of the North East. It is keen to provide the widest possible access to, and to promote awareness of, this unique manuscript which has such significance in world heritage terms.

“The Library is pleased to be working with the Durham Partnership and with support from Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums to ensure that the highest levels of stewardship will be exercised during the loan.”

Simon Henig, Leader of Durham County Council is excited by the potential for the Gospels loan to drive the City’s tourism economy. He said: “This will have very positive implications for tourism and the visitor economy as a whole, as the Gospels will prove a draw to Durham and the surrounding region and will serve as an introduction to the many other cultural attractions we have here.”

Leader of the North East Regional Museums' Hub, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, will work with the Durham partners to provide curatorial advice and support and ensure the display of the Gospel Book is linked to the rich early Christian heritage across the North East, including the island of Lindisfarne and Monkwearmouth, which is itself bidding for World Heritage Status with neighbouring Jarrow.

Paul Watson, Chair of the Association of North East Councils added: “The British Library’s willingness to finalise a loan of the Lindisfarne Gospels to the region is excellent news and something the Association has been pressing for.

“Durham’s World Heritage Site will be an excellent location to display the Gospels in their historic, spiritual and academic context. We look forward to working with partners and the British Library as we continue to explore how the Library might contribute to the regional economy in the longer term."