A book that sat for a few centuries in a coffin and at least that long in a church will soon be on display at the British Library.
The St. Cuthbert’s Gospel is a leather-bound copy of the biblical book of John that likely is more than 1,300 years old.
John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris, in a BreakPoint column, noted it is thought to be Europe’s oldest surviving book, having been copied in the late seventh century.
“This beautifully-preserved segment of God’s word was slipped into the coffin of a man regarded as a saint, perhaps by a friend thinking of Jesus’ words recorded in John 11:25: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,'” the commentary explained.
That was in the late AD 600s.
“The book lay with St. Cuthbert for over 400 years. It was removed when his remains were relocated to Durham Cathedral,” the report said. Eventually, about 2012, it was obtained, for a price of nearly $11 million, by the British Museum.
“The book, with its red cover, elegant, double vine scroll and pristine condition, will go on display later this month at the British Library as part of an exhibit called ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War,'” the report said.
“As beautiful as the book is, it’s the ‘word’ inside that has captured the church’s attention for centuries,” the commentary said.
“The ‘Word,’ or the ‘Logos,’ is central to John’s theology. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ With this opening line, John immediately connects Jesus with the Genesis account of creation. When God spoke the cosmos into existence, His speech was a Person – a Person who took on flesh and came to dwell among us.”
They said the gospel, “treasured today as it was in St. Cuthbert’s time,” shows Jesus in ways other gospels do not.
“He is ‘light’ and ‘life,’ something not only clearly said in John’s prologue, but revealed by the miracles and sermons John chose to include.”
The Catholic Herald reported that after the gospel was found in the coffin after 400 years and removed, it was also in the custody of the British Province of the Society of Jesus.
A few years ago, the society relinquished the book to the museum, for nearly $11 million, to raise funds to restore a historic church.
St. Cuthbert was a bishop of Lindisfarne. The book was found when his grave, closed in the late 600s, was opened in 1104. The book was kept in a cathedral priory for several hundred years but passed into the hands of a private collector in 1540. By the 18th century, it was in the possession of the Third Earl of Lichfield, who gave it to Canon Thomas Phillips, who gave it to the Jesuits in 1769.