Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.
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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History
A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.
By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ July 23, 2011
Well, sortof. "Holy Writ," an article in the July 16-22, 2011, issue of The Economist (p.62) reports that St. Cuthbert’s Gospel, a tiny book barely three inches across is to be purchased for £9 million. http://ning.it/qSn2dC
Well, now, that’s attention-grabbing news to any book lover. And I applaud the fact that private donors have given the money to buy the book from the Jesuits at the beautiful Stonyhurst College in Lancashire in order to keep the treasure in England— appropriately at the British Library.
But on a personal level, the really wonderful thing to me was that The Economist article recounted the fact that this Gospel book, made more than 1,300 years ago at the Venerable Bede’s monastery at Jarrow, was placed in Cuthbert’s coffin by the monks of Lindisfarne when they fled their island home in fear of Viking raiders in the year 793. The Gospel, along with other treasures including Cuthbert’s silver portable altar, richly embroidered vestments and an ivory comb, journeyed with Cuthbert’s body through northern England and southern Scotland for 200 years cared for by faithful Benedictine monks who became known as "Cuthbert’s Folk."
Finally, in the year 995 the wheels of the cart bearing Cuthbert and his and treasures stuck on a high hill above the river Wear at a place known as Dunholme. The monks realized this was where Cuthbert wished to be interred so they built a church on the site. That church became Durham Cathedral.
When the Cathedral we know today was completed in 1104 Cuthbert’s relics were translated to his shrine behind the high altar. The monks opened the carved wooden coffin and found a whole, uncorrupted body. The chronicler Simeon of Durham records that Cuthbert seemed not so much dead as sleeping and "his body gave off a very pleasant odour." The Gospel book was found by his head.
When the monastery at Durham was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538 the agents sent to destroy Cuthbert’s shrine met a serious problem. They could not scatter the bones as instructed because the body was fully fleshed. They left the body and the treasure accumulated around the shrine and rode to London for further instructions.
And thereby hangs a tale. A tale fully recounted in A Very Private Grave as Felicity and Antony follow the trail of Cuthbert’s body and the treasure. The Gospel Book may be safely cared for in the British Library, but it would be a calamity if the rest of the treasure were to fall into the hands of thieves. Thieves who have killed once and are certain to kill again.
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