First translation of the Gospels into the English language


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In the 10th century an Old English translation of the Gospels was made: a word-for-word gloss inserted between the lines of the Latin text by Aldred, Provost of Chester-le-Street. This is the first translation of the Gospels into the English language.

The book called the “Lindisfarne Gospels” (“St. Cuthbert’s Gospels” or the “Durham Book”) is still preserved in the British Museum Library (Cotton manuscript, Nero D. iv). This copy must not be confounded with a small copy of St. John’s Gospel found in St. Cuthbert’s coffin in 1104, and now at Stonyhurst. The former was written at Lindisfarne by Eadfrid “in honour of St. Cuthbert” about 700. It consists of 258 leaves of thick vellum, 13 1/2 X 9 7/8 inches, and contains the Four Gospels in the Latin of St. Jerome’s Version, written in double columns with an interlinear Saxon gloss – the earliest form of the Gospels in English. It also contains St. Jerome’s Epistle to Pope Damasus, his Prefaces, the Eusebian Canons, arguments of each Gospel, and “Capitula”, or headings of the lessons. The glossator, Aldred, states that the ornamentation was the work of Ethelwold (724-740), and that the precious metal cover was made by Bilfrid (Billfrith) the anchorite. It is written in a splendid uncial hand, and adorned with intricate patterns, consisting of interlaced ribbons, spiral lines, and geometrical knots, terminating sometimes in heads of birds and beasts. The intervening spaces are filled with red dots in various designs. Before each Gospel is a representation of the Evangelist. A table of festivals with special lessons seems to indicate that this manuscript was copied from one used at a church in Naples. (For a fuller treatment of the origin of the manuscript, see Dom Chapman’s “Early History of the Vulgate Gospels”, where he gives a slightly different view of the subject.) The book remained at Lindisfarne till the flight of the monks, about 878, when it was carried away together with the relics. During the attempted passage to Ireland, it fell into the sea, but was miracuously recovered after four days. In 995 it was brought to Durham, and afterwards replaced in Lindisfarne, when the church there was rebuilt. For the space of 100 years it was lost sight of. In 1623 it was in the possession of Robert Bowyer, clerk to the House of Commons. He disposed of it to Sir Robert Cotton, whence it passed to the British Museum. Traces of its immersion in the sea have been detected by experts. Its present precious binding was a gift of Bishop Maltby. The codex was edited by Stevenson and Waring (1854-65), and by Skeat (1887).

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Lindisfarne Gospels
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Folio 27r from the Lindisfarne Gospels contains the incipit from the Gospel of Matthew.
The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated Latin manuscript of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The manuscript was produced on Lindisfarne in Northumbria in the late 7th century or early 8th century, and is generally regarded as the finest example of the kingdom’s unique style of religious art, a style that combined Anglo-Saxon and Celtic themes, what is now called Hiberno-Saxon art, or Insular art.

The Lindisfarne Gospels are presumed to be the work of the monk named Eadfrith, who became Bishop of Lindisfarne in 698 and died in 721. Current scholarship indicates a date around 715, and it is believed they were produced in honour of St. Cuthbert. The Gospels are richly illustrated in the insular style, and were originally encased in a fine leather binding covered with jewels and metals made by Billfrith the Anchorite in the 8th century. During the Viking raids on Lindisfarne, however, this cover was lost, and a replacement made in 1852. The text is written in insular script.

The Gospels were taken from Durham Cathedral during the dissolution of the monasteries, ordered by Henry VIII, and were acquired in the early 17th century by Sir Robert Cotton from Robert Bowyer, Clerk of the Parliaments. Cotton’s library came to the British Museum in the 18th century, and from there to the British Library in London.

A campaign exists to have the gospels brought back to Durham Cathedral in the North East of England, a move vigorously opposed by the British Library. A modern facsimile copy of the Gospels is now housed in the Cathedral Treasury at Durham, which can be seen by visitors
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindisfarne_Gospels


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