Book art for eternity adorned with glowing carpet pages: the birth of Insular illumination and a style-defining masterpiece for centuries

Lindisfarne Gospels

Lindisfarne Abbey, Holy Island (United Kingdom) — Around the year 700

Lindisfarne Gospels

Lindisfarne Gospels

Lindisfarne Abbey, Holy Island (United Kingdom) — Around the year 700

  1. An 8th century manuscript from Lindisfarne monastery has a unique status in the history of book art

  2. Style-forming carpet pages that have shaped book illumination – and not just Insular – for centuries

  3. An Old English translation was inserted in the 10th century, making it the oldest English evangeliary

Buch von Lindisfarne (Leather Edition)

Lindisfarne Gospels

Incipit Page: Gospel of Matthew

This splendid incipit page presents the (abbreviated) first line from the Gospel of Matthew: Liber generationis Iesu Christi filii David filii Abraham (The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham). The color palette created by the artists is truly incredible, and when combined with the endless interlace, swirling patterns, and incorporating the heads of various animals, the first three letters in Liber look like a picture from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Lindisfarne Gospels

Alternative Titles:
  • Book of Lindisfarne
  • Buch von Lindisfarne
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

Between 710 and 721, a book was composed at the Lindisfarne monastery on a peninsula called Holy Island that has a unique status in the history of book art today. The Lindisfarne Gospels is the oldest translation of the four Gospels into the English language. It is an incomparable milestone that especially stands out because of its magical book illustrations. Mediterranean and Celtic influences amalgamate into a painting style that is unbelievably rich with colors and forms, which represents a foundation for the future artistic development of the West.

Lindisfarne Gospels

In the late 7th or early 8th century, an illuminated manuscript emerged from the English Lindisfarne monastery that is still considered to be one of the highest achievements of book art to this day. The Lindisfarne Gospels is a collection of the four Latin Gospels, which have been translated into Old English. As a result, the manuscript is the oldest surviving evangeliary in Old English. The adornment of the book is particularly impressively designed. 16 luxuriously-adorned canon tables inaugurate the precious work. Five unique ornament pages display Insular Illumination’s wealth of forms and colors in full splendor. Four portraits of the Evangelists round out the magical, breath-taking book illustrations.

A Holy Place of Origin

The Lindisfarne Gospels was made in the Lindisfarne Monastery, founded ca. 653. The monastery found itself on a small piece of land jutting directly from the coast of northern England, an island with the name “Holy Island”. Its scriptorium quickly developed into one of the most important artistic centers of England and was the place of origin for some true masterpieces of medieval book art. The evangeliary of the monks of Lindisfarne was dedicated to the bishop of the monastery, St. Cuthbert. Cuthbert, who lived as a hermit, enjoyed great honor and esteem from his brothers. He was sainted shortly after his death in 687, and in order to duly celebrate this event, the monks of Lindisfarne decided to compose an evangeliary in memory of Cuthbert.

Legendarily Splendid Décor

The biblical text of the Lindisfarne Gospels was furnished by Aldred, a principal of the monastic community, with Old English glosses. As a result, it contains the oldest surviving translation of the text of the Gospels into English. In the valediction of the manuscript, Aldred connected his work with the work of those who made the evangeliary: Eadrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, wrote and adorned the book, Aethelwald, his successor, had it bound, and a hermit named Billfrith, made the metal fittings for the bindings. The astonishing pictorial decoration of the work is so diverse and beautifully painted that it lends the book a unique status in the history of book art. The canon tables and portraits of the Evangeliaries show influences from the Mediterranean and Celtic cultural areas and combine these in unique insular illumination. Insular ornamentation and braiding patterns embellish the classical columned arcades of the canon tables, which exhibit elaborate, full-page decorative initials. The five finely fleshed out ornament pages, the so-called ‘carpet pages,’ are particularly thrilling. They display Insular Illumination’s full richness of breathtaking colors and forms. The monks allowed outstanding cross shapes worked into the overall composition to vividly emerge from the tightly-wrought waddling through the use of luminous contours.

A Milestone of English History

The Viking raids of the 9th century induced the monks to relocate with the masterpiece from Holy Island, first to Chester-le-Street, and finally to Durham. One presumes that commissioners of King Henry VIII confiscated the book from the monastery in the course of secularization and because of its jewel-encrusted binding – which no longer exists – brought it to London. Today, one can gaze at one of the greatest book treasures worldwide in the British Museum.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Book of Lindisfarne
Buch von Lindisfarne
Size / Format
518 pages / 34.0 x 24.5 cm
Date
Around the year 700
Style
Insular
Language
Illustrations
4 evangelist portraits, 16 canon tables, 5 carpet pages, numerous pages with decorative initials
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Buch von Lindisfarne (Leather Edition)

Lindisfarne Gospels

Cross-Carpet Page

Insular cross-carpet pages were inspired by contemporary metalwork and oriental rugs. Similar pages can be found in Coptic Christian manuscripts, and it is possible that this decorative tradition came to Ireland with monks who came from or spent time in Egypt. This page prefaces the letter of St. Jerome addressed to Pope Damasus, which is often found in Gospel books.

This is a symmetrical design created with an accomplished eye for detail and color. The frame consists of a chain of peafowl with interlace necks and dogs’ heads on the corners. At the top of the page, one can see two uncolored sections of interlace that the solitary artist was unable to finish and were left incomplete by others because the work was a personal act of devotion.

3 available facsimile edition(s) of „Lindisfarne Gospels“

Buch von Lindisfarne (Leather Edition)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Lindisfarne Gospels – Cotton MS Nero D. iv – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
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Buch von Lindisfarne (Leather Edition)

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Faksimile Verlag – Luzern, 2002
Limited Edition
400
Binding
Light leather binding
Commentary
2 volumes (333/647 pages) by Michelle P. Brown
Languages: English, German
Buch von Lindisfarne (Victorian Binding Edition)
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Buch von Lindisfarne (Victorian Binding Edition)

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Faksimile Verlag – Munich, 2002
Limited Edition
290 copies (Victorian Binding Edition)
Binding
Faithful reproduction of the Victorian binding with all decorative stones will be made
Commentary
2 volumes (333/647 pages) by Michelle P. Brown
Languages: English, German
Buch von Lindisfarne (Special book case Edition)
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Buch von Lindisfarne (Special book case Edition)

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Coron Verlag – Zurich, 2002
Limited Edition
290 (Special book case Edition)
Binding
Light leather binding. Facsimile comes in special book case with gemstone cross on front cover
Commentary
2 volumes (333/647 pages) by Michelle P. Brown
Languages: English, German
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