Little known Anglo Saxon treasures from three of our cathedrals will feature alongside the tiny 7thcentury St Cuthbert Gospel, the Domesday Book and the Lindisfarne Gospels in a major new British Library Exhibition that opens later this week.
The Exeter Book, the 10th century anthology of poetry from Exeter Cathedral Library, the Lichfield Angel, a brightly coloured carved figure discovered recently under the floor in Lichfield Cathedral, and Rochester Cathedral’s Textus Roffensis, the only existing written copy of the first code of English Law, will sit aside more well-known manuscripts as part of The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, World, War exhibition which opens in the British Library this week.
The exhibition spans 600 years of history, art and literature from the decline of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest and tells the story of the people of the Anglo Saxon Kingdoms in their own words.
Treasures from the British Library’s own collection include the beautifully illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf, and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History and the world-famous Domesday Book, while the Codex Amiatinus, a giant Northumbrian Bible given to the Pope and taken to Italy in 716, returns to England for the first time in 1,300 years.
The Lichfield Angel: In 2003, excavations beneath the Gothic nave of Lichfield Cathedral to build a new platform for concerts uncovered a small pit, alongside which were three fragments of a bas-relief panel made of Ancaster limestone, carved with the figure of an angel. It is argued that the surviving portion of the panel represents the Archangel Gabriel, his wings still fiery with red colour applied over 1,200 years ago – a rare survival.
The Exeter Book: One of the oldest items in Exeter Cathedral Library, it constitutes the Library’s foundation volume. Its great importance lies in its contents, specifically a collection of poems, a verse anthology, and the fact it is written in Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) the oldest form of English, which was starting to die out as early as the 12th century. There are only four known poetic manuscripts: the Beowulf manuscript in the British Library, the Junius manuscript in Oxford, the Vercelli Book in Italy, and the Exeter Book; these four will be brought together for the first time in this exhibition.
The Textus Roffensis: A 12th-century manuscript, 100 years older than Magna Carta, which contains the only copy of the oldest set of laws in English. It was compiled by a single scribe at Rochester Cathedral in Kent in the 1120’s and is seen by some as containing foundation documents of the English state. Safeguarded by the Cathedral since its inception, the charter has now been digitised by the University of Manchester as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded renovation and community engagement project. It has been recognised as a manuscript to rival any in historical and cultural importance. Read more here.
Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms will be open at the British Library from 19 October 2018 to 19 February 2019