Digitization of Europe’s oldest book sparks medieval future shock.
When we released my new thriller “The League of Delphi” on Kindle Monday, I remembered a fascinating book-related NPR news story from this spring that got me contemplating the “evolution” of the book in the digital world.
In April, the British Library in London acquired a pocket-sized book with a hand-tooled, red leather cover and clean, creamy inside pages in like-new condition. The book – a hand-scribed Gospel of St. John entombed with British cleric St. Cuthbert – cost £9 million (US$14 million) and is over 1,300 years old.
Books are fragile artifacts. Few survive centuries of weathering and relocation intact. Unlike the collection preserved in the world’s oldest continually operating library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, where arid conditions aid naturally in the preservation of books and scrolls, Europe’s climate is rather hostile to books and manuscripts. This is what makes the so-called St. Cuthbert’s Gospel so special – it is the oldest intact book known to have been produced in Europe.
Another notoriously hostile element to books: fire. One reason that St. Cuthbert’s Gospel survived was that the monks at his shrine on the isle of Lindesfarne removed the coffin from its original tomb in the 9th century and fled the marauding Viking invaders known to pillage and burn everything in their path.
The coffin traveled northern England until it finally settled at Durham Cathedral, where it was opened in 1104 and the book was discovered “at the head of our blessed father Cuthbert lying in his tomb.”
On loan from the Jesuits of England since 1979, the main motives for finally raising the money to purchase the gospel were preserving it and sharing it with the world. The Library wasted no time digitizing the book and posting it to their online archives where anyone with an Internet connection can see it.
Will St. Cuthbert’s Gospel crack Amazon Kindle’s top 100 downloads? Probably not. But in a world where some insiders are anticipating that 80% of books may be digital by the year 2020, the idea of digitizing a 1,300 year old book to share it with the world is … um … ahead of its time?
Now, here’s the cheese on this Brain Burger.
3 unconfirmed details about Europe’s oldest book:
- A phone number found scribbled on one of the pages is only 3 digits long.
- It’s written in an archaic language that no one seems to know anymore called English.
- Early reviews were terrible, but sales picked up after the movie came out.
Chris Everheart is author of the thriller
- Holy Island, Northumberland (christinelaennec.co.uk)
- Eurostar and Saint Cuthbert (thechildanimalpoetandsaint.wordpress.com)
- The Lindisfarne Gospels (larryfarlow.com)
- Incorporating Fascinating Legends into Classic Story Lines (reginajeffers.wordpress.com)
- Cover to Dusty Cover (chriseverheart.com)
- The memory of a nation in a digital world (newstatesman.com)