Pilgrimage to view the Lindisfarne Gospels

Our annual pilgrimage this year was a trip to Durham to see the Lindisfarne Gospels which are on display in the 'Palace Green Library' near the Cathedral. Each year the Churches Together in Osmotherley arrange a Pilgrimage, which might be around the village, up to the Lady Chapel or as last year, a visit to Ampleforth since our (then) Catholic Priest was a Benedictine Monk from Ampleforth.

So, on a hot sunny afternoon our coach traveled from Ingleby Arncliffe via Osmotherley, picking up passengers and going by a scenic route to the beautiful city of Durham. It couldn't have been a better day for it!

After some queuing to enter the exhibition, the wait relieved by the light-hearted banter of a well-trained security man, we entered the cooler and quieter environment of the 'library' building. The exhibition was beautifully and very carefully presented with zoned areas to allow controlled access for the visitors. However, I never felt 'controlled' or delayed in my progress and we went at our own pace, just held back for a few minutes occasionally as we waited for people to trickle through ahead of us to avoid overcrowding. It was very well managed. Disabled access was well managed and there were fold-up seats available for those who might need to sit on their way through the exhibition - these can be obtained just before the entry into the exhibition having gone into the building - ask a member of staff if you are uncertain. These seats are a blessing for those who find standing difficult for any length of time. A great idea.

The exhibition tells the story of the Gospels and other important religious texts used by the early English Christians especially in the North and on Holy Island (Lindisfarne). It tells the development and changes in the establishment of the monastery on the island and the progress and changes in the Christian scene across England. There was no need for preparatory reading before visiting, though if you wish to do so it might enhance your visit. The exhibition stands on its own.

The highlights for me were: "The St Cuthbert Gospel, also known as the Stonyhurst Gospel or the St Cuthbert Gospel of St John, (which) is a 7th-century pocket gospel book, written in Latin. Its finely decorated leather binding is the earliest known Western bookbinding to survive, and both the 94 vellum folios and the binding are in outstanding condition for a book of this age." (quoted from Wikipedia and see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Cuthbert_Gospel  for further information) Considering that it was in St Cuthbert's coffin alongside the holy Saint for over 400 years it is an amazing item. It is not certain that Cuthbert ever read it but simply surviving in the condition it has makes it quite remarkable. (I must admit to being a great admirer of St Cuthbert and therefore somewhat biased!)

I was also staggered to see the incredible intricacy and beauty of St Cuthbert's cross. "This Pectoral Cross was removed from the coffin of St Cuthbert on the last occasion that it was opened on Thursday 17th May 1827. Made of gold the stones are garnets. The cross was discovered deeply buried amongst the robes on the breast. A portion of the silk cord, twisted with gold, by which it had been suspended, was found upon the breast. A tradition, however, says the bones were not St Cuthbert's these having been removed to safety in another part of the cathedral some time between 1542 and 1558. But the cross may well still have been his, placed with another body as a "ruse"" (quoted from the Durham Cathedral website)

Finally, at the end of the exhibition we were able to view the complete Lindisfarne Gospels which, as a book of its age, is remarkable. Unfortunately, because of strict conservation principles (quite rightly) being observed, we were only able to view two pages and these are not as colourful and intricate as some. However, the book is a wonder and you can see the images of the whole gospel in several electronic displays in the exhibition so there is always the possibility of viewing your 'favourite' page! A good way to do this is by going to the Wolfson gallery after you have left the exhibition itself. Entry is free and the gallery displays give children and their families a taste of what it was like to live like medieval monastics. Children and adults can dress as ninth-century monks, create their own Gospel carpet page using light boxes and examine the gospel book in detail using state-of-the-art turning-the-pages technology. There is also a detailed display showing how such gospels were constructed from animal skins and the use of materials to make the ink, the colours used and the writing of the book and finally its binding. Well worth a look. Ask a member of staff if you don't know where the gallery is located - access should be available to all. Memorabilia such as books and other items can be purchased either in the Cathedral shop or in the Exhibition shop which you can access at the end of the exhibition.

So, we had a wonderful afternoon out as a group. I managed to sneak a view down in the Catherdral too where there were also photographic exhibitions and St Cuthbert's shrine. We arrived back in Osmotherley at around 18.40 tired but very happy! Many thanks to our driver Dave!

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