Lindisfarne Gospels

Topics: Illuminated manuscript, Insular art, Germanic peoples Pages: 5 (1546 words) Published: March 30, 2014
The Lindisfarne Gospels
The Lindisfarne Gospels is a beautifully handwritten and illuminated manuscript. It contains the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and narrates the life and lessons of Jesus Christ. Also included in the manuscript are fifteen elaborately decorated pages. Both the text and the decorated pages have remarkable artistic elements. It is also one of the best-documented and most complete manuscripts that have survived from the seventh and eighth centuries.1 Every aspect of the Lindisfarne Gospels, from the society and historical environment that shaped it, to the manufacturing of it, and to the artistry all throughout, contribute to distinguish it from other manuscripts of the time period.

Similar to other early manuscripts, the Lindisfarne Gospels reflects the culture in which it was shaped. It was probably made around 715-720 AD on Lindisfarne, an island located off the east coast of Britain.2 The Germanic and Celtic peoples living in Britain during this period had a rich oral culture. Upon contact with Rome and their conversion to Christianity, written literacy quickly gained prominence in their society. Books were being produced regularly and rapidly. More people were learning how to read and write; and for the illiterate, they read through the images. The Germanic and Celtic peoples contributed their skills in the decoration and production of these books. Books were adorned in jewels and precious materials.3 It is this conversion to Christianity and boom in written literacy that created the setting in which the Lindisfarne Gospels would be produced.

The production of the Lindisfarne Gospels was a lengthy and elaborate process. Bishop Eadfrith of the Lindisfarne Church wrote and illuminated the manuscript. Most books were written by groups of monks and nuns, so for Bishop Eadfrith to have authored the entire manuscript himself reveals his extreme commitment and dedication.4 It took approximately two years to complete the entire manuscript. The majority of the Gospels were completed without much interruption. However, Bishop Eadfrith was unable to complete the book and insert the final details due to his death in 721 AD.5 Bishop Ethelwald is recognized for binding the Lindisfarne Gospels, and Billfrith, the Anchorite, is credited for embellishing it with ornaments of gold, silver, and other jewels. Unfortunately, both of their contributions were lost during the Reformation. Finally, Aldred is recognized for glossing or adding the Anglo Saxon translation of the Latin text.6 Each Gospel was glossed for different reasons- Matthew for God and Saint Cuthbert, Mark for the Bishop, Luke for the community, and John for the sake of his own soul.7 The Lindisfarne Gospels were made out of vellum, skins of sheep or calves. Approximately 150 of the best cattle skins were prepared and used to make the pages. These sheets were of the highest quality and were very costly. Moreover, they were most likely gifts from nobles and other religious communities who wished to partake in this offering to God.8 The text of the manuscript is written in a dark brown ink, and the variety of colors seen in the decorated pages was made from animal, vegetable, and mineral extracts. Red and orange came from toasted lead, yellow from orpiment, green from verdigris, blue and yellow from vergaut, white from chalk or crushed eggshell, and black from carbon. Bishop Eadfrith had to have been a skillful chemist to be able to manipulate these extracts and attain a wide variety of colors.9 The Lindisfarne Gospels, a divinely inspired book, was revered with the utmost respect that even the manufacturing of it was executed with much care and attention.

The pages, motifs, and text of the Lindisfarne Gospels all echo influences from a variety of lands, namely the Celtic, Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, and Mediterranean.10 It opens with a prefatory letter by Jerome and Canon Tables. The Canon Tables are set within decorated arcades, and...
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