The Lindisfarne Gospels in South Tynedale

First published on: 9th January 2024

The Lindisfarne Gospels have been on tour in South Tynedale after a local vicar took a facsimilie of the famous illustrated manuscript to schools, community groups and even a pub in his parish. Here, the Revd Canon Stephen Wright, vicar of Parishes by the Wall West, talks about taking the gospels into Haltwhistle, Henshaw and other places during an inspirtational month. 

It was an interesting experience having the Lindisfarne Gospels during the month of December. I’ve taken them to four different primary schools for assemblies, and had two class visits with them, I took them to a gardening club, craft and chat group, six home visits, a Deanery planning meeting, two carols services, two Christingle services, nine ‘normal’ church services, and also to our local pub.

I saved the Stonyhurst Gospel, which comes with the Lindisfarne Gospels, for Christmas proper and the services afterwards. Each week for my sermons I tried to think of a different starting point arising out of these gospels – the reliability of the witness and of our inheritance, the adornment and how we draw attention to our gospel, the colours and design and how we are to reflect the colours of God, and with the Stonyhurst gospel, the desire to keep God close and to walk in fellowship with the saints of God, and finally, something of what I’d learned showing these gospels in different contexts.

At the schools the younger children were mostly interested in feeling (with the special cotton gloves on) the jewelled cover and the smoothness of the pages. The older children were more able to see and appreciate the tiny intricate designs of the artwork. At the local pub someone commented that the decoration on the front was a bit over the top really. But then it wasn’t designed to be read in a small pub but in a huge priory church with all the pomp and ceremony that a large church can do. But God, humbled himself and found it fitting to be discovered in a humble house in Bethlehem, except of course he shed his outward glory before entering. Having the wonderful decoration and artwork of the Lindisfarne Gospels in the small rooms of the local pub felt a bit like Jesus visiting in some back room stable – we might think it incongruous, but God was content to be found in humble surroundings in Bethlehem.

At one home visit the host laughed as we realised, ’we’ve spent 20 minutes talking about the glories of the book, but no time talking about its message!’ That was when I realised the book was so easily a distraction. It’s so easy to get sucked into that and it happens whenever we get visitors to church, ‘Ah, you just visiting are you? This was built in the 1220s you know!’ but mention very little about what actually goes on here today. Not that the architecture is not worth mentioning, like the artwork and jewellery on the book, but it points not only to the skills, culture and society at the time it was made, but also to the faith of those who spent such time making it, and of course, to Jesus Christ. At the Christmas Midnight service I revealed the Stonyhurst Gospel and its leather pouch and explained that important people would be allowed to carry it round their necks while praying. I put the pouch on, and for the rest of the sermon didn’t want to take it off. This book had been close to the man of God in his tomb for 300 years (never mind that it was a facsimile) and I wanted to walk in company with Cuthbert in the way of Christ, and to draw near to him and to God. It was an unexpectedly moving moment for me.

Week by week, more people, hearing by word of mouth mostly, came to see the gospels before or after our services. I learned a lot looking up answers to questions they asked about them. I am left with the desire to continue in the heritage of reliable witness, to draw attention to our gospel, to reflect the colour and design of God, and to be near God in fellowship with others.

For more on the Lindisfarne Gospels and other resources, visit the North East Religious Resources Centre website here


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