The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


The shrine of St Cuthbert, monk, hermit and Bishop, rests in the magnificent Norman cathedral in Durham. A candle burns perpetually on the slab. It is a place of pilgrimage similar in status to that of St Thomas a Becket at Canterbury. The original tomb, which had a most interesting history, was destroyed on the orders of the monstrous King Henry VIII.

St Cuthbert was born c633AD, probably from a noble Anglo-Saxon family in the north country of Britain. He became a monk after a visionary experience concerning the death of St Aidan. He contracted the plague but recovered. He became Prior of Melrose and after the Synod of Whitby in 664 (which amongst other matters, ruled that the Roman Rite should supersede the Irish Rite) was sent to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne first as Prior then as Bishop where he attained considerable eminence. He died on 20th March 687AD and was buried in a magnificent sarcophagus, together with a portable altar, a cross and a small book of St John’s Gospel in Latin.

At the end of the 7th century the sarcophagus was carried away to avoid the marauding Vikings. In the year 1104 the small book of the Gospel was retrieved from it and was found to be in pristine condition. The text was still clear, written in an Insular Script similar to Irish Half Uncials and the leather binding beautifully preserved. Over the centuries it passed through many hands, including that of the Jesuits. It was recently sold for nine million pounds and is now in the care of the British Library.

The tooling on the cover has some exquisite patterning and in the centre is a design which some experts consider is the Vine Design. It is more probable that it is a conventionalised representation of the Tree of Life, since similar representations exist in other manuscripts, notably those from Ireland. Rod has produced a variation of this design (see magazine cover), based on that in St Cuthbert’s Gospel book. It is acknowledged that the preservation of text and binding of this little book is little short of miraculous.

Rod Dawson

Summer Edition 2012

St Cuthbert and the Gospel Book