THE Lindisfarne Gospels
are going home - for a few months, at least. When they were
created, the small outcrop of land jutting into the North Sea
which, at high tide, formed an island was an important political
and cultural centre. Now, the north-east is more associated with
ship-building; and the Jarrow of Bede is the Jarrow of the March.
The centre of civilisation is London, which looks after this great
treasure; and it is by special dispensation that the Gospels make
their way back up north.
It was ruminations on
authority and identity which made David Almond's Sunday
Feature: The Gospels come home (Radio 3) a cut above the
average documentary. Almond is a writer whose upbringing in Tyne
and Wear, and as a Roman Catholic, gives him a sense of the
contrasts and conflicts between centre and periphery, be it in
politics or religion.
One of the essays that
punctuated this well-informed account of the Lindisfarne Gospels
recounted Almond's distaste for the garish authoritarianism of the
Vatican. The spirituality instantiated in the Gospels is more in
keeping with his sensibilities: direct and organic.
The Gospels are organic
in the sense of their being created from the materials that
Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne and principal scribe, would have
found around him. Calves, bred in the community, were used to
provide the parchment; and quills, presumably from local geese,
carried ink and pigments created from plants grown in the area. The
only element of the artefact in its present state which might not
get the approval of the Soil Associ- ation is the heavy binding,
strengthened with metal, which was added in the Victorian
Durham and the locality
are making a big fuss over the homecoming; and so they should.
Thousands of pilgrims are expected to cram on to the island for a
special celebration, which will be marked by performances from a
special Lindisfarne Gospels Community Choir. What St Cuthbert might
have made of the invasion we cannot know. Would he have waded out
into the North Sea in search of a remoter spot?
The anniversary of the
First World War looms at least as large as the original event did
to those living out the long Edwardian summer that preceded it. How
dark that shadow was forms the central question in Michael
Portillo's series 1913: The year before (Radio 4,
weekdays). Did the British expect war, or did it take a complacent
society by surprise? And what of the assumption that the war
changed everything - politics, culture, religion, and society - in
a way that could never have been expected?
Portillo was the presenter of Radio 4's series Things we
Forgot to Remember; so it was likely that the answers to such
questions were going to be a mixture of yes and no. All sorts of
changes were being felt before the British Expeditionary Force set
out in 1914, including female participation in the labour market,
the rise of union self-confidence, and innovations in art,
literature, and music. And Portillo could be given the luxury of a
few straw men, in the interests of making a useful, if ultimately