©The British Library Board


The opening page of St Matthew's Gospel.

The Gospels were written in Latin, in Northumbria around 698, with the oldest surviving translation of the Gospels into English added between the lines around 970

The supreme masterpiece of early Anglo-Saxon book production. The scribe who added the Old English translation, Aldred of Chester-le-Street, recorded that it was made 'for God and for St Cuthbert' by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne 698-721, and bound by Ethelwald, Bishop 721-40. Both were monks of the Lindisfarne community during the time of St Cuthbert (d.687), and the manuscript may well have been made to honour the raising of his relics to the altar in 698. Billfrith the Anchorite adorned with precious metals and jewels the lost binding or book shrine.

Each of the four Gospels opens with a miniature of the appropriate Evangelist, a decorative 'carpet' page based on the form of a cross, and an elaborate initial page. Other decoration includes a set of 16 arcaded canon tables and a number of smaller initials. All display the extraordinary richness of the single artist-scribe's decorative vocabulary, elements of which are drawn from other media, notably metalwork. His panels of complex zoomorphic interlace are frequently based on birds.

Cotton MS Nero D. iv, ff.26v-27