Medieval manuscripts blog

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30 November 2017

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition to open in 2018

On 19 October 2018, our major exhibition on the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms will open. Ranging from the 5th to the 11th centuries, the exhibition will explore this long, dynamic period when the English language was used and written down for the first time and a kingdom of England was first created. Drawing on the British Library’s own outstanding collections and a large number of very significant loans, the exhibition will examine the surviving evidence for the history, art, literature and culture of the period, as preserved in books, documents and a number of related objects.

Amiatino 1  c. Vr - Copy

Miniature of Ezra writing in Codex Amiatinus, written at Wearmouth-Jarrow before 716: Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Amiatino 1 (© Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence)

Codex Amiatinus, the earliest complete Latin Bible, will be returning to Britain for the first time in over 1,300 years ago for display in the exhibition. This giant illuminated Bible was made at Wearmouth-Jarrow in Northumbria in the early 8th century. Abbot Ceolfrith took it with him on his final voyage to Italy, as a gift to the Pope in 716. It is now held in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence which is generously loaning the manuscript next year. It will be shown with the St Cuthbert Gospel, the earliest intact European book, which was also made at Wearmouth-Jarrow and was acquired by the British Library in 2012. The two books are very different: while the St Cuthbert Gospel, which contains only the Gospel of John, can be held in one hand, the spine of Codex Amiatinus, containing the whole Bible, is nearly a foot thick. These two books will be exhibited alongside the Lindisfarne Gospels, one of Britain’s greatest artistic treasures, and other illuminated manuscripts of international significance made in the late 7th and 8th centuries.

Cuthbert binding

Amiatino 1  legatura

The tiny St Cuthbert Gospel, British Library Add MS 89000 and the gargantuan Codex Amiatinus (image courtesy of Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana)


Two other complete Bibles were made at the same time as Codex Amiatinus. Only a few leaves of one of the other Bibles survive; the third has been completely lost: British Library Add MS 45025, f. 2v.

The exhibition will include a number of outstanding objects, including key pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard discovered near Lichfield in 2009, and kindly loaned by Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils. Objects drawn from the unique array of military equipment which makes up the bulk of the hoard will be on display, as well as the pectoral cross and the gilded strip inscribed with text drawn from the biblical book of Numbers.



The pectoral cross and an inscribed strip from the Staffordshire Hoard, to be loaned to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition by Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils (images courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust)

A key theme in the exhibition will be the development of the English language and the emergence of English literature. We will explore the use of writing on inscribed objects and in documents as well as in books, and will present highlights of the bilingual literary culture. The major works of Old English poetry survive in only four manuscripts, and all four will be brought together at the British Library next autumn for the first time. The unique manuscript of Beowulf, held in the British Library, will be displayed with the Vercelli Book on loan from the Biblioteca Capitolare in Vercelli, the Exeter Book on loan from Exeter Cathedral Library, and the Junius Manuscript on loan from the Bodleian Library in Oxford. This will be the first time that the Vercelli Book has been in England in at least 900 years.


Beowulf spoke … (‘Beoƿulf maþelode …’): British Library Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 169r

All the items in the exhibition are remarkable survivals. Over the centuries they have lasted through wars, the Norman Conquest, the Dissolution of the Monasteries (and their libraries), natural disasters and fires. A significant number of the exhibits have never been seen together before, and some have not been reunited for centuries.

Far from being the ‘Dark Ages’ of popular culture, the kingdoms in this period included centres of immense learning and artistic sophistication, extensively connected to the wider world. The movement of artists, scribes, books and ideas between England, Ireland, continental Europe and the Mediterranean world was fundamental to the development of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and will be a key theme of the exhibition.


The opening of St Mark’s Gospel, from the Cnut Gospels, southern England, before 1018: British Library Royal MS 1 D IX, f. 45r

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms will be open at the British Library from 19 October 2018 to 19 February 2019.

Claire Breay and Alison Hudson

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I was very excited to hear of this forthcoming exhibition. I'm the author of 'The Nineteen Songs of Remembering', a historical novel which is set in the seventh century AD and medieval manuscripts play an important part in the plot. The premise is that there was an underground mystical Christian movement, initially based in Glastonbury, which used the banned Gnostic gospels of Mary, Thomas and Philip, the Pistis Sophia and other 'heretical' documents that brought the death penalty (burning at the stake) if one was caught in possession of them! I wonder if you might be interested in hosting a book reading and signing event in connection with your exhibition?

Thank you for getting in touch. Our Events programme is still at a very early stage of planning, and will be closely linked to the manuscripts on display in the exhibition. Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts

Will you be creating an email listing to provide us with direct information on plans for special events?

Thank you for your question. You can sign up to hear more about our events by scrolling to the bottom of our homepage: (Join our mailing list)
Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts, The British Library

Will there be any lectures about the manuscripts?
will the pages be turned each day? Can you get a pass for more than one day?
Have the complete manuscripts been digitized?
I am a calligrapher and a group of us from the US would like to see the exhibit and want to know about any special events supporting the exhibit. Thank you.

Thank you for your questions. There will be an events programme alongside the exhibition, and a conference in December 2018 (full details to be posted on this blog). The pages of a handful of manuscripts will be turned once during the exhibition. Those from the British Library have been digitised and will be found here:
Tickets will be released online later this year, and full details will also be published here.

As someone who has worked extensively with Birmingham Museums on the Staffordshire Hoard (making exact duplicates) visiting this now goes straight to the top of my list of things to do in October

Will there be any material from, or reference to the Mucking Excavation (Essex) in the exhibition?

A small number of loans has been publicised ahead of the exhibition. The remaining loans will be announced in October.
Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts, The British Library

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition yesterday. Almost too many exhibits! Can anyone please tell me which manuscript the picture of Woden (12th century manuscript) comes from. I think it was from a work attributed to Simeon of Durham?


Thank you for your kind comment! That manuscript is British Library Cotton MS Caligula A VIII, and you can read more about it here:

Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts, The British Library

Will the exhibition tour to other museums or countries?

Is there any possibility of the exhibition going on tour in the foreseeable future?


The exhibition is on at the British Library in London until 19 February 2019. There are no plans to take it on tour.
Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts

Will the Codex Amiatinus be at the Bristish Library until Feb 2019? I was privileged to see this sacred book in Florence 20 years ago. We were a small group of 7 people and were simply reduced to silence in the presence of such a Holy Book. It would be a joy to see this treasure again.


We are delighted to say that this wonderful manuscript, and all the other exhibits in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, will be on display at the British Library until 19 February 2019.

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