York Gospels

York Gospels Facsimile Edition

Probably Canterbury (United Kingdom) — Late 10th century and mid-11th century

Continuously used in York Minster for 1,000 years: one of the few surviving manuscripts produced in the British Isles before the Norman Conquest of 1066

  1. The gorgeously illuminated Gospel Book includes a letter from King Cnut the Great (r. 1016–1035)

  2. It was created ca. 990 in Saint Augustine’s Monastery in Canterbury and taken to York ca. 1020

  3. A rare source for the oaths taken by archdeacons, canons, and vicars choral in the 14th–16th centuries

York Gospels

Add. 1 Minster Library (York, United Kingdom)
  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
York Gospels

The York Gospels is counted among a small number of manuscripts produced before the Norman Conquest of 1066 that have survived to the present. It was created ca. 990 by monks from Saint Augustine’s Monastery in Canterbury and was then taken ca. 1020 to York, where it has been in continuous use at the York Minster for the last 1,000 years. The gorgeously illuminated Gospel Book also has a letter from King Cnut the Great and records concerning the church’s property in York. It is the only surviving English Gospel Book containing the oaths taken by archdeacons, canons, and vicars choral between the 14th and 16th centuries. In recent years, it has been the subject of scientific research and the DNA analysis of the manuscript has produced numerous important findings for both the study of the manuscript itself and broader fields of study.

York Gospels

The York Gospels is a cherished Anglo-Saxon manuscript predating the Norman Conquest that is prized not only for its historical worth but also its artistic beauty. It was once protected by a silver-gilt binding, which was removed in 1547 during the confiscations of the English Reformation that filled royal coffers and has a simple leather binding today. The manuscript was apparently seized during the English Civil War or the Commonwealth that followed because it was returned to York in 1678. Its text is adorned by decorative interlace initials including an elaborate historiated initial at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew and 3 classically styled Evangelist portraits (St. John is missing) and the manuscript is considered to be one of the finest surviving examples of Anglo-Saxon illumination.

A Groundbreaking New Technique

Researchers long desired to take a sampling of DNA from the book’s pages but doing so would normally require destroying a small piece of it, which was unthinkable. A new so technique was thus developed for the recovery of DNA from the parchment sheets that was ingeniously simple: a white plastic eraser like those used in drawing classes is rubbed on the page creating static electricity that allowed tiny amounts of parchment and whatever else might be stuck to the page to come off on the eraser. These particles are then collected and treated with chemicals to recover DNA and proteins. The technique can be applied to bone, ivory, or any other protein-based material.

The Hidden Stories of the Manuscript

The researchers were able to learn from this that calfskin was primarily used from five calves. What is strange is that four of them were female and not male as is typical for people raising dairy cattle. This has led to the conclusion that the calves died in an outbreak of a disease that devasted cattle herds across the British Isles at the end of the 10th century, which had the upside of providing an abundance of parchment. A document consisting of property records added in the 14th century is made of sheepskin, which was preferred for legal documents because it was less robust than calfskin and thus tore if someone trade to erase or modify it, making alterations easy to detect. Traces of human DNA indicates which pages were used most frequently – not surprisingly it was those containing clerical oaths. Finally, the analysis detected bacteria that can create spots on the pages, but thanks to the early warning, the corrosive bacteria was dealt with before it could cause damage to this precious tome.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Evangeliar in York
Size / Format
334 pages / 27.0 × 20.5 cm
Date
Late 10th century and mid-11th century
Language

Available facsimile editions:
York Gospels – Add. 1 – Minster Library (York, United Kingdom) Facsimile Edition
The Marquess of Normanby – London, 1986
Facsimile Editions

#1 The York Gospels

The Marquess of Normanby – London, 1986

Publisher: The Marquess of Normanby – London, 1986
Commentary: 1 volume by Nicholas Barker and Jonathan J. Alexander
Language: English
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format). The majority of the pages are monochrome facsimiles, some miniatures have been reproduced in color. The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
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