Nice try, Viking marauders, but we still have most of it!
The Durham Gospels, an important Latin manuscript, has recently been digitized and made available online. It is just one of the many manuscripts that can be viewed at the Durham Priory Library Recreated website, listed there as Durham Cathedral Library MS. A.II.17.
The presentation-format at the website is better than practically any other manuscript-presentation on the internet; not only can the digital full-color page-views be magnified, so that viewers can zoom in on fine details, but by accessing a menu in the left upper corner of the page-views, viewers can rotate the page, adjust brightness, adjust contrast, adjust saturation, and more – even invert colors. There is also an easy-to-navigate Rolodex-style bar of page-views below the main image, allowing viewers to sift through the entire manuscript. It may be wished that this will become a new standard in online manuscript-presentation.
The Durham Gospels had already been produced (probably by monks at
Lindisfarne monastery) well before the Vikings
attacked there in 793. It might have
undergone some damage at the hands of the Vikings: almost all of the Gospel of Matthew is
missing. The last two chapters of John are missing. Several chapters of the Gospel of Luke are missing, too, and have been
replaced with pages from another (very different) manuscript. Presently, when one reads the Durham Gospels,
the text of John appears first, which is highly unusual. This was not how the
manuscript was made; some unknown person re-ordered the pages. Most of the text is neatly written in a semi-uncial
insular script, very similar to the handwriting in the Echternach Gospels.
Here is a basic index for the Durham Gospels:
2r – The Gospel of John begins, with a huge and elaborately embellished initial.
16r-16v contain the passage about the adulteress.
38v – The text of John ends in 19:32.
38r* – The text on this page is all somewhat damaged; its text begins in Matthew 25:35.
38v* – The text on this page begins in Matthew 25:45.
38r2 – The text on this page (as a note above the text near the upper left corner indicates) begins in Matthew 26:13 and continues through Matthew 26:23; the handwriting is different in the final line.
38v2 – The text on this page begins in Matthew 26:24.
38r3 – Centered on the page is the text of Matthew 28:17-20, within a frame enhanced by knotwork. Although this is the last page of the Gospel of Matthew, it must have existed adjacent to 38v2 for some time, because the imprint of some of the lettering on 38v2 is visible on the page; the intervening pages from chapters 26, 27, and 28 were absent.
38v3 has a full-page picture of Christ crucified, flanked by two angels. A heading identifies Him as Jesus the King; the Greek letters alpha and omega appear to the left and right of His head, respectively. A soldier is offering Him a sponge on the end of a reed (cf. Mark 15:36). There are words on the outside of all four sides of the frame. This may be the earliest English depiction of the crucifixion.
38r4 – Introduction to the Gospel of Mark. The introduction begins with an elaborately decorated title.
394 – More introductory glosses, including a list of some non-Latin words (beginning with Abba)
40r – The text of Mark begins in 1:12.
(Many of the pages in the Gospel of Mark have been cut at the bottom of the page, almost as if someone was in very desperate need of blank parchment.)
66r features a pair of ornate embellished initials in the text of Mark 14:27.
69r features a particularly beautiful intial E, with knotwork, at the beginning of Mark 16:2.
69v has the text from Mark 16:3-14a (the last words are illis XI apparuit), but the final page of Mark is not extant.
70 apparently has been the victim of a thief; someone cut away the upper half of the page, probably to obtain a particularly beautiful sample of the copyist’s artistic penmanship.
70r begins the text of Luke 1:9.
71v, a well-executed M (with eagle-heads) begins the Magnificat, in Luke 1:46.
72v features some nice colorful artistry in the opening letters of Luke 2:1.
On fol, 75, half of the page has been cut out.
102v ends on the last line in Luke 22:2.
103r begins the supplemental manuscript, written in an entirely different script (uncial) and different ink, containing text from Luke 21:33ff., cola-and-commata style, in two narrow columns per page.
105r features, I think, an Anglo-Saxon note scrawled in the upper margin. The name “Aldred” is in this note, and is repeated on the same page. This may have been added by the individual known as Aldred the Scribe, who in the mid-900s inserted an Old English translation in between the Latin lines of the Lindisfarne Gospels. This suggests, in turn, that the Durham Gospels were once housed in
Chester-le-Street, the town where Aldred resided.
106v includes the text of Luke 22:43-44.
111v ends the last line of its text in Luke 23:44.
|An ornamental initial |
in the Durham Gospels.
Many initials, especially those with colored interiors (yellow, green, purple) are surrounded by small red dots of lead, a feature shared by many initials and decorations in the Book of Kells.
Those seeking more detailed information about the Durham Gospels may wish to seek out The Durham Gospels: Together with Fragments of a Gospel Book in Uncial (1980) by the team of Christopher Verey, Julian Brown, and Elisabeth Coatsworth, along with Roger Powell.
The individuals responsible for the digitalization of the manuscripts at the Durham Priory Library Recreated website are to be thanked and congratulated for bringing online such an excellent collection of resources. Funding for the project has come from, among other places, The Foyle Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Jnr. Charitable Trust, the Zeno Karl Schindler Foundation, and various generous individuals. Those responsible for producing the digital materials and formatting them for online use include Andrew Tremlett, David Cowling, Liz Waller, Stephen Taylor, Judy Burg, Richard Higgins, Richard Gameson, Geoff Watson, Liz Branigan, Olli Lyytinen, Frank Addison, Robin Brownlee-Sayers, Caroline Craggs, and Gizella Dewath. There is a blog which explores various aspects of the digitalization project.