Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hild and Cuthbert's Gospel


** This is a cross-post from my personal blog **


This is Cuthbert's Gospel, the book that was buried at Lindisarne with St Cuthbert sometime after his death in 687. It is the earliest bound British--or even European--book to survive intact. It's tiny, a pocket Gospel, written in Latin on vellum. It's simple--no illumination, just elaborated initial letters, some with a bit of red--and beautiful.

Hild, who died just seven years before Cuthbert, might well have had a book like this. Sadly, I doubt hers would have been as fine. Her foundation at Whitby would have had a much more pioneering feel to it. The monks of Monkwearmouth/Jarrow, who are believed to have made Cuthbert's Gospel, were a slightly later generation religious, more practiced scribes and book artisans.

But the text itself, the Gospel of John, would have been familiar.


Ever since I saw this image of the prologue, I've imagined Hild reading and rereading those first three lines:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and Word was God...
This is the essence of Hild: the ability to name that which others either don't recognise or are afraid to articulate. Language is her weapon of choice. Naming is her superpower--or one of them. John would have been her Gospel of choice.

The book is now owned by the British Library which has agreed to a co-custody arrangement with Durham University and Durham Cathedral. I hope to see it one day soon.

2 comments:

Lisa Spangenberg said...

The entire ms. has been digitized:

http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_89000

There's an affordable DVD with high resolution images as well.

Nicola Griffith said...

I spent some time looking at that British Library link and loving how far technology--and attitudes towards sharing--has come.