Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

13 January 2011

Anglo-Saxon Treasures Online

We are delighted to announce that full colour images of two iconic treasures, the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Old English Hexateuch, have been added to our Digitised Manuscripts site.

The Lindisfarne Gospels is one of the great masterpieces of medieval western art. Dated conventionally to the first decades of the 8th century, the manuscript is adorned with beautiful carpet-pages, miniatures of the evangelists, and decorated initials. It contains the usual prefatory material and canon-tables, followed by texts of the Gospels of Sts Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The colophon added at the end of the volume declares that the scribe was Eadfrith, bishop of Lindisfarne (698-721), that the book was bound by Æthelwald, and that the metalwork and jewels of its cover were made by Billfrith the Anchorite. The text of the whole manuscript is also notable for containing an interlinear Old English gloss, added by Aldred, provost of Chester-le-Street (fl. 970).

The beginning of the Gospel of St Matthew, from The Lindisfarne Gospels, showing large decorated initials L and G.

Decorated initials 'L'(iber) 'G'(enerationis) at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, The Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 27r).

The Lindisfarne Gospels formed part of the library of Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631), and was given to the nation by his grandson, Sir John Cotton (d. 1702). Cotton's manuscripts were arranged in presses named after Roman emperors: the Lindisfarne Gospels has the shelfmark London, British Library, MS. Cotton Nero D. IV. Unfortunately, the original binding has long been lost -- the current binding was provided in 1853 at the expense of Edward Maltby, bishop of Durham (1836-1856).

The Old English Hexateuch (Cotton MS Claudius B IV) is another renowned Anglo-Saxon manuscript. Made in the 11th century, it contains the text of the first 6 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua), all translated into Old English. A large number of the manuscript's pages have illustrations of key episodes in Biblical history, including Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel. During the Middle Ages, the Old English Hexateuch belonged to the monks of St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury: like the Lindisfarne Gospels, this volume later entered the collection of Sir Robert Cotton.

A page from the Old English Hexateuch, showing an illustration of Noah's Ark.

Miniature of Noah's Ark, Old English Hexateuch (Cotton MS Claudius B IV, f. 15v).

This is the first time that images of the whole of both manuscripts have been made available online. The British Library hopes to add further manuscripts to the Digitised Manuscripts site in the coming months.


Can't beat it. Modern technology allowing us to appreciate ancient texts.

a book is a book, an icon is an icon,-- how can a book be iconic? Surely these are among the most treasured, renowned, and cherished books, but they are not iconic, except in a very modern and colloquial use of that term.

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