British Library buys Europe's oldest book for $14.3m

A manuscript copy of the Gospel of St John has been acquired by the British Library for £9m ($14.3m).

The book, known as the St Cuthbert Gospel, dates from the seventh century and is the oldest complete European book in existence. It was discovered in the coffin of St Cuthbert, who was buried on the island of Lindisfarne around AD 698.

Fleeing the Viking hordes, the island's monks carried Cuthbert's coffin to Durham, where it was eventually opened in 1104 and the gospel found.

St Cuthbert Gospel British Library
The unique St Cuthbert Gospel

It is widely regarded as one of the most important books in existence and its exhibition in the Library will inspire pilgrimage from book lovers across the globe.

Scott McKendrick, head of history and classics at the British Library, told the Guardian: "Most people who know about books know about the St Cuthbert Gospel. The staggering fact is that we don't have a European book that looks as it did when it was made before this. It's quite astonishing."


The manuscript looks almost new, with its original leather binding in incredible condition given its age. It was acquired from the Society of Jesus, who had asked auction house Christie's to approach the British Library as a first choice for the purchase of the book.

Funding for the purchase came mostly from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which was established to protect works of art for the nation.

The book is to be displayed at the Library in a special exhibit documenting its fantastic journey through history, as well as in Durham following an agreement between the British Library and Durham Cathedral.

Not every collector can stretch to a £9m book. We have our own range of more modestly priced rare books for collectors here.



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