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- Studies from Court and Cloister - 50/61 -


Monsieur de Ridder, a Dutchman, who presented it to the University of Utrecht where it still remains.* Sir Robert Cotton's signature is on the first page.

*The History, Art, and Paleography of the Utrecht Psalter, by W. de Gray Birch, F.R.S.L., Keeper of the Manuscripts in the British Museum.

The great charm of this manuscript, a facsimile of which is to be seen in the Cottonian library, lies in its pen-and-ink illustrations, as forcible and appealing as are the scenes of the Last judgment on the walls of the Campo Santo at Pisa. Among the Harleian MSS., moreover (No. 603), there is an illuminated Psalter so like it, that it seems impossible that the artist should not have had the Utrecht Psalter before him as he drew; unless, as Sir Edward Thompson supposes, the older manuscript is itself a copy of a still more ancient one, which leads him to infer that other versions of this Psalter were in existence in England at an early date. This would account also for the Eadwine Psalter at Cambridge, a twelfth-century imitation of the Harleian manuscript. Neither of these Psalters can be described as an absolute copy of the Utrecht Psalter.

We are here led to deplore the loss of another valuable manuscript of a totally different kind, which, although not in the collection at the time of Sir Robert's death, once belonged to this library, and was lost in the same way. We refer to to the "Enconium Emmae" an eleventh century MS. which Cotton sent to Duchesne, and which the latter used in writing his Historiae Normanorum, but never returned. It has entirely disappeared.

We now come to what is perhaps the noblest monument of Anglo-Saxon times in the Cottonian library--namely, the famous Lindisfarne Gospels also known as the Durham Book, a marvel of palaeographic art. It is indisputably the finest production of the school of Lindisfarne. The Latin text, written in double columns, was transcribed by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, while still a simple monk, in honour, some say for the use, of St. Cuthbert. It was finished after the saint's death, at the end of the seventh, or beginning of the eighth century. This we learn from intrinsic evidence, in the form of a brief note in Anglo-Saxon at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew, and a longer one at the end of the volume. These notes have thus been translated by Mr. Waring:--*

* Prolegomena, Lindisfarne, and Rushworth Gospels, part iv.

"Thou, O living God, bear in mind Eadfrith and Aethelwald, and Billfrith and Aldred, the sinner. These four with God's help were employed upon (or busied about) this book."

And--

"Eadfrith, Bishop over the Church of Lindisfarne, first wrote this book in (honour of) God and St. Cuthbert, and all the company of saints in the Island; and Aethelwald, Bishop of Lindisfarne, made an outer cover, and adorned it as he was well able; and Billfrith, the anchorite, he wrought the metal-work of the ornaments on the outside thereof, and decked it with gold, and with gems, overlaid also with silver and unalloyed metal; and Aldred, an unworthy and most miserable priest, by the help of God and St. Cuthbert, over-glossed the same in English, and domiciled himself with the three parts. Matthew, this part for God and St. Cuthbert; Mark, this part for the bishop; and Luke, this part for the brotherhood; with eight ora of silver (as an offering) on entrance; and St. John's part for himself--i.e., for his soul; and (depositing) four silver ora with God and St. Cuthbert, that he may find acceptance in heaven through the mercy of God; good fortune and peace on earth, promotion and dignity, wisdom and prudence through the merits of St. Cuthbert.

"Eadfrith, Ethelwald, Billfrith, and Aldred have wrought and adorned this Book of the Gospels for (love of) God and St. Cuthbert."

Old as it is, neither vellum nor illumination shows the least sign of decay. The writing is exquisitely beautiful, and points to a degree of refinement and cultivation which we do not usually associate with a rough life, such as was led by the monks of sea-girt Lindisfarne. There are to be seen wonderful initial letters, geometrical and tesselated designs, like the most delicate and intricate mosaics, and above all, beautifully devout representations of the four evangelists, all evidently drawn by the same loving and reverent hand, and the whole colouring as fresh now as if it had been painted yesterday.

The evangelists, each accompanied by the symbolic animal, usually assigned to him, occupy nearly the whole of their respective pages. They are taken from Byzantine models, of which, as Westwood points out, nothing remains but the attitudes, the fashion of the dress and the form of the seats. There can be little doubt that these illuminations were copied from a MS. brought into England by the missionaries sent from Rome by St. Gregory in the seventh century.

* Facsimiles of the Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish Manuscripts. P. 35.

Sir Edward Thompson, following Dom Germain Morin,* shows that the Capitula, or tables of sections which accompany each gospel are according to the Neapolitan use, and that Adrian, the companion of the Greek, Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury in his mission to Britain in 668, was abbot of a monastery in the Island of Nisita, near Naples.

* See his articles in the Revue Benedictine line, Nov. and Dec. 1891, pp. 481 and 529.

Bede tells us that these missionaries were both at Lindisfarne, and Sir Edward Thompson gives it as his opinion that the Neapolitan MS. from which the Durham Book or Lindisfarne Gospel derived its text, had been brought a few years previously from Naples by the Abbot Adrian.*

* English Illuminated Manuscripts," Bibliographica," part ii.

The interlineary Saxon gloss was a later addition by the monk, Aldred, and Billfrith, as we have seen, made the sumptuous metal cover. This binding, needless to say, has long since disappeared, and for many years a shabby morocco covering replaced the gorgeous shrine in which the monks of Holy Island had deposited their treasure. About sixty years ago, Bishop Maltby of Durham, at the suggestion of Mr. John Holmes, provided a worthy substitute, the design for which was copied from one of the ornamented pages in the book itself.

This magnificent manuscript has been published by the Surtees Society, together with the very inferior Rushworth Gospels, but only one illumination has been reproduced.*

* The Lindisfarne Gospels or Durham Book is described in Planta's Catalogue (Nero, D 4), as "Liber praeclarissimus, elegantissimis characteribus et curiosissimus pro istius seculi arte picturis et delineationibus ornatus." See also Wanley's Catalogue, Codd. MS. (Anglo-Sax.) p. 250.

Of absolutely authentic history there is little to relate concerning this celebrated manuscript, but Simeon of Durham, or rather Turgot, whose account he copied (and both men lived in the neighbourhood), is responsible for a story which says that it remained at Holy Island till the ravages of the Danes forced the monks to fly, carrying with them their two greatest treasures, the body of St. Cuthbert, and this volume. But in their flight across the narrow strip of sea which divides the Island from the coast of Northumbria, their boat was thrown so much on one side that the book fell overboard. They arrived safely on the opposite shore, but could not make up their minds to continue their journey till they had done what they could to recover the precious relic. So they waited at the peril of their lives till the tide went out, leaving, as it does to this day, a stretch of bare sand between the Island and the mainland. To the inexpressible joy of the monks, they then found the book lying unharmed on the sand.

Archbishop Eyre, in his Life of St. Cuthbert, following the story as it is contained in the Rites of Durham,* places this incident in the sixth or seventh year of their wanderings.

* Surtees Society.

"And so, the bishop, the abbot, and the rest, being weary of travelling, thought to have stolen away, and carried St. Cuthbert's body into Ireland, for his better safety. And being upon the sea in a ship, by a marvellous miracle three waves of water were turned into blood. The ship that they were in was driven back by the tempest and by the mighty power of God as it would seem, upon the shore or land. And also the said ship that they were in, by the great storm and strong raging walls of the sea as is aforesaid, was turned on the one side, and the Book of the Holy Evangelists fell out of the ship into the bottom of the sea."

This account says that the monks found the volume about three miles from the shore, and that their landing-place was Whithorn in Galloway, opposite Belfast.

When Lindisfarne became a priory cell to Durham, this famous manuscript still remained in the city of St. Cuthbert, and in the History of North Durham by Raine, it is mentioned in the year 1637, as "the Book of St. Cuthbert which had fallen into the sea." We, indeed, notice a brown stain on several of its leaves, which might be accounted for by their having been saturated with salt water, did we but know what would be the effect of a sea-water mark after so long a period. At the time of the dissolution it was still at Durham, and no record of what then befel it has been preserved.*

* Brayley's Graphic and Historical Illustrator, 1834; article "The Durham Book," by the Rev. Joseph Stevenson.

Sir Robert Cotton discovered it in the possession of Robert Bowyer, clerk of Parliament under James I.

The resemblance between the artistic and palaeographic peculiarities of the Book of Kells and the Durham Book is accounted for by the fact that Lindisfarne was founded from Iona, which had been given to St. Columba and his Irish companions in the sixth century. The monks, who settled at Holy Island, continued the Scoto-Irish traditions which they had brought with them, and perpetuated them in their manuscripts.

A brief notice of one other remarkable MS. may be made. It is to be found in the press Claudius, B 4, and a careful description of it is given by Westwood in his Palaeographia Sacra Pictoria, and in his Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish MSS. An early tradition declares it to be one of the volumes sent to St. Augustine by Pope Gregory. However that may be, it is known as the Augustine


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