On Friday, January 15, 2016, the St Augustine Gospels- a 6th century gospel book that is reputed to have been sent with St Augustine on his mission from Pope Gregory the Great to convert the English people- was brought from Cambridge to Canterbury Cathedral for the day to serve as inspiration to the assembled Primates at an extraordinary meeting of the Anglican leadership. The goal was for the manuscript to serve as a physical reminder of the core principles of the church; based on long tradition, the words of the Gospels themselves, and the faith that unites all believers.
The visit was in conjunction with the loan of an ivory crozier which is venerated as a relic of Augustine’s mentor, St (formerly Pope) Gregory, from the monastery of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome. These two items were displayed together in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral during the closing service of the meeting. Following the ceremony, Parker Library staff gave informative talks on the manuscript in the Cathedral library, which were attended by Cathedral staff and visitors. This was an extremely rare opportunity to see the 1,400 year old manuscript out from under glass, as it is typically only available to view in its case in the Parker Library exhibition on one day a month.
The gospel book, also known as CCCC MS 286, was initially kept at St. Augustine’s abbey in Canterbury and venerated as a relic of the saint. After the dissolution of the monasteries, it was brought to Canterbury Cathedral. Decades later, Matthew Parker, (then Archbishop of Canterbury), was given a mandate by Elizabeth I to collect ancient books and documents from the realm, with which to study the history of Christianity in England and shore up the tenets of the new Anglican church. He proceeded to collect a large number of manuscripts from Canterbury Cathedral, including the Gospels, a collection which now forms the core of the Parker Library, which has been the home of the gospel book since Matthew Parker bequeathed it to his old College in 1575.
Further details are available here.
Special thanks are due to the incredibly welcoming and efficient staff of Canterbury Cathedral, whose kindness to the Parker Library staff (all a bit tired from their 5AM start from Cambridge!) really made the visit a success.