Centuries-Old Gospel of John Bought by British Library for $14.3M

Jesuits Sell Gospel Buried With St. Cuthbert More Than 1300 Years Ago

A rare copy of the Gospel of John has been sold by the Jesuits to the British Library for $14.3 million and is said to be in "exquisite" condition despite being more than a thousand years old.

The U.K. Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, sold the St. Cuthbert Gospel, also known as the Stonyhurst Gospel or the St. Cuthbert Gospel of St. John, to the library in partnership with Durham University and Durham Cathedral.

The book, which emanates from the seventh century, is written in Latin and was discovered over 900 years ago in the coffin of St. Cuthbert, who was buried with the book in 687.

The Gospel was discovered in 1104 after the saint's coffin was moved to Durham Cathedral to escape Viking raids during the ninth and 10th centuries.

"To look at this small and intensely beautiful treasure from the Anglo-Saxon period is to see it exactly as those who created it in the seventh century would have seen it," British Library's chief executive Lynne Brindley said of the purchase.

"The exquisite binding, the pages, even the sewing structure survive intact, offering us a direct connection with our forebears 1300 years ago," the library executive added.

The ancient book, which maintains its original tooling and its red goatskin binding, serves as the earliest surviving example of Western bookbinding and is the oldest European book to survive fully intact.

"It is undoubtedly one of the world's most important books," Scot McKendrick, head of history and classics at the British Library, told Reuters.

"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," he added.

The book will be displayed at the British Library in London and will head to northeastern England for display at the Durham University and Cathedral in 2013.

The manuscript is also undergoing digitization and will be made available to view online in the future.