The History of and Information About

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illumination, the Lindisfarne Gospels. The text is written in an insular majuscule hand developed from the script that the monks had brought from lona. About 250 years later Aldred, son of Alfred and Tilwin, added a gloss in English. Fortunately for us, he also wrote a note about the origin of the book that, for a brief moment, draws aside the curtain that hides life on that storm-swept island:
Eadfrith, Bishop of the church of Lindisfarne, he at the first wrote this book for God and for St Cuthbert and for the whole company of the saints whose relics are on the island. And Ethilwald, Bishop of those of Lindisfarne Island, bound and covered it outwardly as well as he could. And Billfrith the anchorite he wrought, as a smith, the ornaments that are on the outside and adorned it with gold and with gems and gilded silver, unalloyed metal. And Aldred, an unworthy and most miserable priest, with God's help and St Cuthbert's, over-glossed it in English. . . .

    Another aspect of the Lindisfarne Gospels bears fascinating witness to the international character of the Church in those early days for (and this is about the last thing one would have imagined) it exhibits strong Neapolitan traits in the liturgical directions which, with tables of lessons proper for festivals and so on, precede each Gospel. This appears to have been the result of an exchange of ideas and experience.
    Benedict Biscop, a Northumbrian nobleman who founded the twin monasteries of Wearmouth-Jarrow, made more than one journey to Italy, travelling right down nearly two hundred miles beyond Naples to the south. Here he visited a Benedictine house famous for its manuscripts, founded about the end of the fifth century by Cassiodorus near his birthplace, and called by him Vivarium, because of its fishponds. Biscop must have spent much time following the rites practised there, and he also acquired manuscripts, which he carried home to Northumberland. On the other hand Bede tells us of Hadrian, Abbot of Nisida, near Naples, who came on a mission to Northumbria in 669 and later spent some years in Canterbury. These travels explain the extraordinary phenomenon of a Neapolitan liturgy being written in a monastery in the far north of England.
    In 875 the Danes invaded Lindisfarne and destroyed the monastery. The monks fled, taking their more portable treasures, including the relics of St Cuthbert and this book. It was carried from place to place and, during a journey to Ireland, was washed overboard in a storm. It was recovered, miraculously uninjured, at low tide.
    After many wanderings the Lindisfarne Gospels came to rest in Durham, where it was seen by a certain Simeon of Durham in the twelfth century, as he records in his history of the cathedral. But in all probability the book was later returned to the refounded priory on Lindisfarne, for the inventory of 1367 records: 'Liber S. Cuthberti qui demersus in mare . After the sack of the monasteries the manuscript disappears until, in the seventeenth century, it was acquired (stripped of itsjewelled binding) by Sir Robert Cotton. It eventually passed, with the rest of his library, to the British Museum on its foundation in 1753.

'That man is little to be envied,' said Dr Johnson, 'whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of lona!' It was here, in 563, that St Columba founded the monastery that rapidly became the centre of Celtic Christianity and sent forth missionaries to pagan Europe. And it was here, in the second half of the eighth century, that the supreme masterpiece of the Celtic school, one of the world's greatest books, was written - the Book ofKells.
    A few years later the Abbot Cellach and his monks, fleeing from the Norsemen and carrying the unfinished manuscript "with them, took refuge in the Abbey of Kells, about forty miles from Dublin. Here the precious book remained until it was given to Trinity College, Dublin, in the seventeenth century. It contains the four Gospels decorated with an unusual wealth of illumination, all but two of the pages being painted. Experts have detected the work of four different artists of unequal talent, and an exceptionally wide series of European and Near-Eastern influences. It is hopeless to summarize a book of such richness in the few words available to me here, except, perhaps, to make one point. In the Lindisfarne Gospels the upsurging Celtic imagination is kept within almost classical control as if the wild romantic spirit were held within the Roman discipline of the Catholic Church. In the Book of Kells there is far less restraint; the Irish temperament is given free rein.
    The exuberance of the Book of Kells is well displayed in the three opening words of Matthew 1:18, 'Christi autem generatio\ "with 'Christi (XPI and 'autem' contracted [i]. Irish scholars claim that this is 'the most elaborate specimen of calligraphy which has ever existed' and who can contradict them? Towards the left-hand side, almost hidden in the pattern, there are three angels, two of whom hold books. The third grasps a pair of blossoming sceptres with all his might, as if he were frightened lest the swirling pattern in which they have become entangled were about to snatch them out of his hands. Crouching under the tail of the P a couple of rats are surreptitiously nibbling at the Host, while two cats, with reprehensible languor, look on.
    The Amiatino Bible is not only the most important codex of the Vulgate in existence but also the supreme example of English uncial writing, its splendid script marching majestically across the pages like the assured tramp of the Roman legions. It was written in the twin monasteries of Wearmouth-Jarrow, the home of the Venerable Bede, the heart of Northumbrian civilization. The Abbot Ceolfrid commissioned three copies of the Bible, one for each of the monasteries, another as a present for the pope. Armed with his precious burden Ceolfrid set out for Rome in 716, but died at Langres, in France, without having accomplished his mission. We do not know how the Bible reached Italy and the monastery on Mount Amiata, but the presentation inscription was faked by erasing the name *Ceolfridus Anglorum and substituting 'Petms Langobardorum'. The book remained on Mount Amiata until the monastery was suppressed in 1782. It then went to its final home, the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence. The fraudulent inscription remained undetected and the book was assumed to be Italian until it was examined, in the 188os, by the great scholar Giovanni Battista de Rossi. Not only was the deception exposed, but F. J. A. Hort discovered that the verses which head the codex were identical with those recorded by the eighth-century Historia Abbatum as having been inscribed in Ceolfrid's Bible

The Northumbrian civilization, which did so much towards relighting the lamps all over Europe, was overrun and destroyed by the Danes, and we must turn to the Anglo-Saxon world of southern England. Here a distinguished group of kings, bishops and abbots promoted a remarkable culture. This lasted only a little more than a hundred years, beginning with the accession of King Edgar in 959 and ending at Hastings in 1066.
    A major factor of this upsurge was a revival of monasticism; new houses were founded and old foundations revived. No man did more in this field than St Ethelwold, who served as Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984. He began the rigorous reformation of his own cathedral by installing monks and driving out the non-monastic clerics. The latter did not like this and almost succeeded in poisoning their bishop.
    One of the most important elements in this civilization found expression in the production of splendid manuscripts, especially at Winchester and Canterbury, generally known as the Winchester School. The Benedictional of St Ethelwold is among the greatest of these manuscripts. A benedictional contains blessings that can be pronounced, at mass, only by a bishop. Only two really important illuminated bene-dictionals of this period have survived, and both of them were created by the Winchester School: the Benedictional of St Ethelwold and the

Manuscripts page 3  read on..


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