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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 May, 2003, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Gospels on public show
Lindisfarne gospel - St Matt
The book features the first English translation of the Bible gospels

The Lindisfarne gospels, one of Britain's most important texts, go on show at the British Library in London on Friday in an exhibition looking at Britain's cultural life in the eighth century.

The gospels, which were created by the scholarly priest Eadfrith in the north east of England about 720AD, are widely regarded as one of the most important books in British history.

They detail the rise of a coherent British society around the legend of St Cuthbert.

The exhibition will help show the public the gospels' place as an important building block of British society, Dr Michelle Brown, the British Library's curator of illuminated manuscripts, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday.

The gospels will be part of the library's exhibition Painted Labyrinth: The World of the Lindisfarne Gospels, which runs from Friday until 28 September.

The Lindisfarne gospels is a very beautiful way of summarising a statement of social inclusion
Dr Michelle Brown, British Library

"The gospels, the way I read them, are an incredible statement by one very, very gifted and inspired individual to try and summarise a whole society's identity and beliefs," said Dr Brown.

"It's the aftermath of empire, you've got the redrawing of the political map of the world, you've got the emergence of some of the great religions.

Building block

"The Lindisfarne gospels is a very beautiful way of summarising a statement of social inclusion," she told Today.

Dr Brown said the gospels - written on 259 leaves of vellum, a parchment made of calfskin - could be seen as a building block toward British society becoming a confident culture and "international player".

St Mark's carpet
The gospels is too fragile to be physically handled

"The gospels also contain the earliest translation of the [Bible] gospels into the English language. It's a great linguistic monument," she said.

The Lindisfarne Community Heritage Centre on Holy Island will now have a "facsimile" of the gospels, which will join a 23-page electronic version, director Ian McGregor told Today.

"It will add to our wonderful presentation of the gospels," Mr McGregor said.

13,000 copies

Dr Brown added the current electronic version allowed people to view parts of the book without damaging it, as the gospels were too fragile to be physically handled.

Another copy of the gospels will go to Durham Cathedral. The copies cost 13,000 each.

This week, Dr Brown said the gospels were now thought to have been written at the same time as Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English people, according to the British Library, moving the date of their creation from 698 AD to 720 AD.

She said the earlier accepted date had ignored a lot of archaeological and historical detail that related to Eadfrith's work.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Rosie Millard
"Miraculously, the gospels survived the raging Vikings"



SEE ALSO:
Gospels' truth uncovered
14 May 03  |  Entertainment
North loses battle to show gospels
20 Jan 03  |  England


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