Did You Know?

By Debra Conley


             Many visits to the British Library in London left me with countless images to remember, particularly the vast collection of ancient Biblical texts, including one of the most beautiful I have ever seen:

The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated manuscript consisting of 258 leaves of calfskin vellum, created in the late seventh to the early eighth century.

This legacy of an artist monk living in Northumbria (northeast coast of England near border of Scotland) in the early eighth century is a precious testament to the tenacity of Christian belief during one of the most turbulent periods of British history. Costly in time and materials, superb in design, the manuscript is among our greatest artistic and religious treasures. It was made and used at Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island, a major religious community that housed the shrine of St Cuthbert, who died in 687.

Medieval manuscripts were usually produced by a team of scribes and illustrators. However, the entire Lindisfarne Gospels is the work of one man, giving it a particularly coherent sense of design. According to a note added at the end of the manuscript less than a century after its making, that artist was a monk called Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne between 698 and 721.

Apart from its original binding which is believed to have been lost in a Viking raid, the Lindisfarne Gospels survived intact throughout the centuries.

The Viking raid on Lindisfarne in 793 is the earliest known written account of a Viking raid. In traditional history writing this event marks the beginning of the Viking Age in the British Isles. Monks managed to save the book and took it with them when they fled from Lindisfarne in 875 after suffering Viking raids

There is a book seller online at ABEBooks.com which offers some great illustrated Bibles. Below are some of their descriptions of illustrated Bibles:

Gustave Doré was one of the most acclaimed and popular illustrators of the nineteenth century, and his illustrated Bible is a landmark in the field. He made more than 200 engravings, illustrating the events of the Bible with detail and emotion. The first edition appeared in France in 1866, but his work was reprinted throughout Europe in the ensuing decades. The earliest editions tend to be the most expensive, but many collectors are happy with any nicely bound edition.

John Baskerville’s Bible marks a high point of eighteenth-century printing and typography. He printed four illustrated editions of the Bible between 1760 and 1772. The 1763 printing is considered one of the most beautiful ever made.

Benjamin Franklin called Massachusetts printer Isaiah Thomas “the American Baskerville.” Thomas printed two Bibles in 1791, a spectacular illustrated folio edition (about 15 inches tall) and a smaller “quarto” edition (about 12 inches tall). Both can be expensive, but his 1802 Bible is an affordable connection to the earliest days of American Bibles.

Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible is probably the most valuable printed book, with single leaves selling for $60,000 and up. First printed in 1456 , the Gutenberg Bible was the first book produced with moveable type. A copy sold in 1987 for $4.9 million at Christie’s New York.

Even in the earliest Gutenberg originals, a spacious margin was allowed so that illuminated decoration could still be added by hand which was done by dedicated monks or scribes.