The Lichfield/Llandeilo Gospels Reinterpreted

  • Michelle P. Brown
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Scholarship concerning the great Gospelbooks that are amongst the leading cultural monuments of the “Insular” period of British and Irish history, ca. 550–850, has grown apace during the course of the past century and a half. It has been interlaced with a reawakening of regional and national identities and with a developing sense of the value of such cultural artifacts as iconic rallying points. The pendulum of intellectual debate has accordingly swung wildly between extremist positions in which swathes of interrelated materials have been claimed as entirely the product of one nation or another, within this cluster of isles. Thus the Hiberno-Saxon Gospelbooks, notably the Book of Durrow, the Book of Kells, the Durham Gospels, the Echternach Gospels, and the Lindisfarne Gospels have generally been claimed for England and Scotland by Masai, Kendrick, Bruce-Mitford, and Julian Brown and for Ireland by Henry, William O’Sullivan, Daibhi Ó Croinin, and Bernard Meehan. Others, such as George Henderson, Nancy Netzer, and myself, have adopted a more nuanced approach, favoring a spread of production centers across all three areas at a time when their religious cultures often collaborated in the shared work of conversion and construction, the very term “Insular” serving as a convenient shorthand to obviate the necessity of drawing arbitrary national distinctions.1


Ninth Century British Library Purple Pigment Welsh Language Convenient Shorthand 
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  1. 1.
    For an overview of the various scholarly debates, see Michelle P. Brown, “Fifty Years of Insular Palaeography, 1953–2003: An Outline of Some Landmarks and Issues,” in Archiv für Diplomatik. Schriftsgeschichte Siegel-und Wappenkunde, ed. W. Koch and T. Kölzer (Köln: Böhlau, 2004): 277–326.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    On the Lichfield Gospels’ provenance, see J. J. G. Alexander, Insular Manuscripts, 6th to the 9th Centuries, A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles 1 (London: Harvey Miller, 1976), no. 21. See also D. Jenkins and M. E. Owen, “The Welsh Marginalia in the Lichfield Gospels. Part I,” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 5 (1983): 37–66, and “The Welsh Marginalia in the Lichfield Gospels. Part II: The ‘Surexit’ Memorandum,” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 7 (1984): 91–120.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On the Lindisfarne Gospels (British Library, Cotton MS D.iv), see Michelle P. Brown, The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality and the Scribe (London: British Library and Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
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  6. 7.
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  7. 8.
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  10. 14.
    Patrick McGurk, Latin Gospel Books from A.D. 400 to A.D. 800 (Paris and Brussels: Aux Editions Erasme, 1961), no. 16; Brown, Lindisfarne Gospels. Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Fred Orton and Ian Wood, with Clare A. Lees, Fragments of History: Rethinking the Ruthwell and Bewcastle Monuments (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007); for an alternative interpretation of these pieces in a monastic context, see Éamonn Ó Carragáin, Ritual and the Rood: Liturgical Images and the Old English Poems of the Dream of the Rood Tradition (London: British Library and Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005).Google Scholar
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    Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS 58; see Peter Fox, The Book of Kells, 2 vols., facsimile (Lucerne: Faksimile Verlag, 1990); Alexander, Insular Manuscripts, no. 52.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
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  15. 20.
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  16. 21.
    On the Cairo Genizah, founded in 882, see Michelle P. Brown, ed., In the Beginning: Bibles before the Year 1000 (Washington, D. C.: Freer/Sackler, 2006).Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    Cambridge, University Library, MS L1.1.10; see Michelle P. Brown, The Book of Cerne: Prayer, Patronage and Power in Ninth-Century England (London: British Library and Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996); Alexander, Insular Manuscripts, no. 66.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    Michelle P. Brown, “The Lichfield Angel and the Manuscript Context: Lichfield as a Centre of Insular Art,” Journal of the British Archaeological Association 160.1 (2007): 8–19.Google Scholar

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© Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones 2008

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  • Michelle P. Brown

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