Thousands expected to make pilgrimage to see Gospels in former home

Thousands of people are expected to see the return of the priceless Lindisfarne Gospels to the city where it spent 500 of its 1,300-year history.

The book is one of the country’s greatest treasures, both in terms of Medieval art and its place in the history of Christianity in Britain.

The stunningly designed calf-skin pages are usually kept in London’s British Library but have been moved to Durham University for a three-month exhibition devoted to explaining its history.

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Scholars believe the manuscript was created by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, just off the Northumberland coast, in around 700.

It is thought the Gospels was produced to promote the cult of St Cuthbert, who died in 687.

It used Anglo-Saxon and Roman styles, bringing together two rival forces which had been at odds as Britain converted to Christianity.

Eadfrith used carefully mixed pigments to decorate the exquisitely drawn Latin text with strange beasts and spiral designs.

A century later, terrifying Viking raids threatened the future of the remote community and in 875 the monks left to tour the North East with the relics of St Cuthbert and their precious Gospels, looking for a place to settle.

After another 100 years in Chester-le-Street, the treasures eventually settled in Durham, and were housed in the cathedral, once it was built, for 500 years.

The manuscript was taken away when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539 and fell into the hands of a wealthy collector, before it was passed on to the national collection in 1753.

Durham University’s Richard Gameson, who has the title of Professor of the History of the Book, said that despite its antiquity, the Gospels remained almost pristine having been made to last for eternity.

“The Lindisfarne Gospels is uniquely important as, when it was made, it was a masterpiece and it’s come down to us in near perfect condition over 1,300 years,” he said.

“The scribe wrote nearly 2km of the most perfectly-formed calligraphic script.

“You cannot put a value on a work that is unique and is genuinely priceless but one indication in crude monetary terms is that a book that was bought for the nation a year ago, a very small gospel of St John, a fraction of the size with no illumination, was £9m.”

The exhibition opens on Monday and runs until September 30.