£9 million St Cuthbert Gospel returns to Durham

British Library’s latest acquisition to be displayed in Palace Green Library.

British Library Cuthberts Palace Green

The oldest intact European book is to be displayed in Durham after being bought by the British Library for a staggering £9 million.

The Latin manuscript of the Gospel of St John was discovered in the coffin of St Cuthbert when it was opened in Durham Cathedral in 1104, and is believed to have been created as early as the seventh century.

Little is known of the manuscript's whereabouts between 1104 and the 1700s, but academics assume it was kept in Durham for much of that time. In the mid-eighteenth century, it was given to the Jesuits living in Europe, from which it has been on loan to the British Library since 1979.

In 2010, the auction house Christie’s approached the Library with an offer of £9 million for the purchase of the book, which still has its original appearance inside and out, including the intricate red leather binding, 1,300 years after its creation.

The purchase of the rare and valuable manuscript was enabled by the museum’s biggest ever fundraising campaign, raising money from donors including the Friends of Durham Cathedral, and entering a formal partnership with Durham University and the Cathedral itself.

Thanks to this partnership, the valuable St Cuthbert Gospel will spend half of its time in Durham, where it will be displayed in Palace Green Library, and the other half in London at the British Library.

Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “This is a rare gem and an extraordinarily precious piece of heritage for the nation. I am delighted that the fundraising campaign has been so successful.”

The first visit of the gospel is scheduled for July 2013, where it will be exhibited alongside the Lindisfarne Gospels, richly decorated Christian manuscripts from the eighth century, which will be brought to Durham on a three-month loan. Together, they will display the North East’s priceless contribution to our surviving collection of medieval sacred texts.

The Dean of Durham explains, “For the people of Durham and North-East England, this is a most treasured book.” He thanked all donors who had allowed the precious gospel to be “saved for the nation.”