Let Gospels come home

BRING them home ...

A campaign was launched today to bring one of the country's greatest and most beautiful treasures to Sunderland.

The Lindisfarne Gospels could soon be on display at the city's Museum and Winter Gardens giving the people of the North East an opportunity to experience a unique part of their heritage.

Securing the Gospels would be a major coup for Sunderland and, with a direct rail route from London due to begin this December, could bring in thousands of visitors from across the country.

The Association of North East Councils (ANEC) has pledged to make a case to the British Library to lend the Gospels next year.

One of the most outstanding masterpieces of early Medieval book painting, the illuminated Latin manuscript was produced during the late 7th Century or early 8th Century.

Councillor Linda Ebbatson, vice-chairwoman of ANEC, said: "Sunderland's Museum and Winter Gardens has an excellent record of showing national collections and has the facilities and expertise to safely transfer and store the Gospels.

"Added to recent marketing of the city and the region as a tourist destination, the loan of this national treasure could significantly boost the tourism and regeneration of the city and North East."

The plan would see the Gospels brought to the city for three months, helping give the cultural and economic regeneration of Sunderland – and the North East – a boost.

The campaign was today backed by a wide cross-section of groups, societies, councils and organisations from across the region.

Mick Thurlbeck, chairman of the North East Chamber of Commerce's Sunderland committee, welcomed the move.

He said: "This is excellent news, especially since we are on the verge of finalising the latest move towards St Peter's and Jarrow being designated as a World Heritage Site.

"If the Gospels were on display in Sunderland Museum, which is a stone's throw from St Peter's, it would tell the world how important the rest of the country thinks this site is."

Mary Stephenson, 84, founded Whitburn History Society 20 years ago and has remained an active member.

The 84-year-old, who still lives in the village, said: "The Gospels are something the North of England ought to claim back as its own.

"We've had too many things taken away from us in the past. These are incredibly beautiful pieces of work and are something that should be seen by everybody. I saw them a few years ago and it's something I won't forget."

Earlier this year, Sunderland city councillors, in a cross-party agreement, backed a call for a return of the Gospels to the North East.

Pam Tate, chairman of Southwick Heritage Group, said: "I just think it would be brilliant for us and they should come back to the area. And there's so much interest in history round here."

Stuart Miller, chairman of Sunderland Heritage Forum, said: "Heritage is not just about old fogeys talking about the past, it's about getting people to come to Sunderland. They're not going to come here if there's nothing for them."

Houghton councillor and Sunderland Council cabinet member Kath Rolph, who suggested the notice of motion, said: "The association's call is an added boost to the continuing campaign to bring the gospels back to the region where they were created and a chance for people to see them at first hand.

"An opportunity that many here do not have because of the expense of visiting London."

Battle continues for historic work

THE Lindisfarne Gospels are presumed to be the work of a monk named Eadfrith who became the Bishop of Lindisfarne in 698 and died in 721.

It is believed they were produced in honour of St Cuthbert and are richly illustrated and originally encased in a fine leather binding, covered with jewels and metals from the 8th Century.

This cover was lost during the Viking raids on Lindisfarne and a replacement was made in 1852.

In the 10th Century an Old English translation of the Gospels was made – a word-for-word text was inserted between the lines of the Latin text by Aldred, Provost of Chester-le-Street. This was the first translation of the Gospels into the English Language.

The Gospels were taken from Durham Cathedral during the dissolution of the monasteries, ordered by Henry VIII, and were acquired in the early 17th Century by Sir Robert Cotton from Robert Bowyer, clerk of the Parliaments.

Cotton's library came to the British Museum in the 18th Century, and from there to the British Library in London.

A campaign has been going to have the Gospels brought back to Durham Cathedral.

A modern facsimile copy of the Gospels is now housed in the Cathedral Treasury at Durham which can still be seen by visitors.