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Life of Lindisfarne Gospels’ writer is celebrated on Holy Island

09 July 2021

BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD

Portrait of St Matthew, in the Lindisfarne Gospels

Portrait of St Matthew, in the Lindisfarne Gospels

THE life of Eadfrith, the monk who wrote and illustrated the Lindisfarne Gospels (Features, 9 August 2013), was celebrated on Holy Island, on the 1300th anniversary of his death.

The celebrations have included lighting up the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick-upon-Tweed in the Northumberland colours of red and gold; bell-ringing on Eadfrith’s feast day, 4 June; and concerts, writing workshops, and a podcast. Pupils at Lowick and Holy Island C of E First Schools made a pilgrimage across the sands to the island on Tuesday of last week.

“The Lindisfarne Gospels are a beautiful depiction of the story of Christ and they also tell us about how the island community and its culture survived terrible persecution and how the people of the north-east united to save this book,” the Vicar of St Mary’s, Holy Island, Canon Sarah Hills, said. “Sharing ideas, treasuring diversity and reconciling our differences, as expressed in the pages and journey of this book, can help us all to achieve peace and reconciliation in our lives and communities today.”

The monastic community at Lindisfarne, founded in the seventh century by St Aidan, abandoned the island in 875 after almost a century of Viking raids, taking with them the body of St Cuthbert, Prior and Bishop of Lindisfarne, and other relics, including the Lindisfarne Gospels.

The British Library, which has housed the Gospels since 1753, describes them as “the most spectacular manuscript to survive from Anglo-Saxon England”. A decorated Gospel-book, it features ornate painted lettering, drawings, and patterned pages with multi-cultural influences. A press release announcing the celebrations noted that Eadfrith “pioneered the use of a candle-powered lightbox to enable him to trace the complex patterns and intricate lettering on the book’s vellum pages”. Fifty-eight leaves of calfskin vellum were used to produce the book.

The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, said: “The north of England is recognised as the cradle of northern Christianity, and Eadfrith’s masterpiece provides timeless inspiration to us all.”

The Eadfrith Gospels celebrations are supported by the Handley Trust and Allchurches Trust. The Lindisfarne Gospels will go on display at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, on loan from the British Library, next year (News, 26 February).

An interactive digital copy can be viewed at lindisfarnecentre.org.

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