This post is dedicated to beauty and ‘exceptional exuberance’. It is also about the first vernacular version of the gospels in English. (This is to give Wayne the heads up that there is a tie-in to translation.) The ‘beauty’ and ‘exuberance’ is to communicate happiness to the dear reader. Fortunately I can spin this one out even longer than Junia, so be prepared for a series of visual delight.
This image is from the Lindisfarne Gospels In the British Library. (Right click on the image and open in its own window to view along with this post.) The commentary on this page notes that it is “of quite exceptional exuberance and complexity, offering all the different elements of Eadfrith’s decorative vocabulary within a single final tour de force.”
A few pages of this manuscript can be viewed at the British Library online gallery* where it is accompanied by this explanation.
- The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the most magnificent manuscripts of the early Middle Ages, was written and decorated at the end of the 7th century by the monk Eadfrith, who became Bishop of Lindisfarne in 698 and died in 721. Its original leather binding, long since lost, was made by Ethelwald, who succeeded Eadfrith as bishop, and was decorated with jewels and precious metals later in the 8th century by Billfrith the Anchorite. The Latin text of the Gospels is translated word by word in an Old English gloss, the earliest surviving example of the Gospel text in any form of the English language, it was added between the lines in the mid 10th century by Aldred, Provost of Chester-le-Street. Today the manuscript is once again bound in silver and jewels, in covers made in 1852 at the expense of Edward Maltby, Bishop of Durham. The design is based on motifs drawn from the decoration of the manuscript itself.
This page is from the first verse of John’s Gospel and the text is,
- In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus
(In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and God)
To make it easier to read, I have broken up the words line by line.
In the upper right hand corner is the yellow inscription ‘Johannis aquila’ (John eagle.) Below that in red is written ‘incipit evangelium secundum Johannis’ (begins the gospel according to John.) I will post about the nomina sacra (abbreviations), the symbols preceding and following ‘Johannis aquila’ and several other features of the script in future posts.
As best as I can see, the interlinear Anglo-Saxon gloss for this page reads as follows,
Even though this is basically a literal word for word interlinear gloss, one can see already that interpretation is represented. In addition to the interlinear gloss there are also notes in the margin of many pages.
It is also interesting to note that the spelling of the Anglo-Saxon text is not constant. ‘Word’ is spelled as uord here and word elsewhere in the text.
In the initial letters of this page animal ornament alternates with knotwork, and this is the only page of script in the Lindisfarne gospels in which the face of a human is woven into the lettering.
Notes: *There is a fancy little shockwave pageturner version here with a magnifying glass feature. However, I find the static images far more accessible as the whole page can be viewed full size at one time.
** My Anglo-Saxon is not very good so please feel free to correct my transcription. I cannot find a copy of the Anglo-Saxon text on the internet.
*** I became familiar with the Lindisfarne Gospels through this book by Janet Backhouse which I acquired many years ago. A glance at this book makes me suspect that the colours in the internet pages are not always true.