Lindisfarne Gospels

Cotton MS Nero D. iv - British Library (London, United Kingdom)

Alternate Titles:

Book of Lindisfarne, Buch von Lindisfarne

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Alternate Titles

Book of Lindisfarne
Buch von Lindisfarne

Extent / Format

518 pages / 34.0 x 24.5 cm

Around the year 700

Eadfrith, bishop of Lindisfarne (died 721)

Artist / School

Scribe: Eadfrith, bishop of Lindisfarne
Binding: Aethelwald and Billfrith


4 evangelist portraits, 16 canon tables, 5 carpet pages, numerous pages with decorative initials

Former owners

Sir Robert Cotton

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.

Facsimile editions available


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.

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