Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 18 October 2010

St Luke

As it seems appropriate to today's feast of St Luke,I have copied the bulk of this post with its illustrations from a piece on Idle Speculations in connection with the Papal visit, when this Gospel Book was taken to Westminster Abbey:

"The St Augustine Gospels (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Lib. MS. 286) is an illuminated Gospel Book which dates from the 6th century. It was taken to Britain shortly after it was made and has been here ever since. It is the oldest surviving Latin (i.e. not Greek or Syriac) illustrated Gospel book.

It is traditionally considered to be either a volume brought by St Augustine to England with the Gregorian mission in 597, or one of a number of books recorded as being sent to him in 601 by Pope Gregory the Great."

Portrait of St Luke
Folio 129v of the St. Augustine Gospels MS 286 (early 6th century)
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
The pediment has an inscription with a hexameter from the Carmen Paschale by the fifth century Christian poet Coelius Sedulius (Book 1, line 357):"Iura sacerdotii Lucas tenet ore iuvenci" - "Luke holds the laws of priesthood in the mouth of the bull".

Scenes from The Passion f.125

I would add to this the fact that it was at Canterbury until the reformation and given, along with others, by Archbishop Matthew Parker to his old college Corpus Christi. This may have ensured its survival in the next century of turmoil. It is taken to Canterbury for the enthronement of new Archbishops and also was taken there for Pope John Paul II's visit in 1982.

It is a wonderful and precious survival by any standards, both as an actual historical artifact and symbolically as a tangible relic of the Gregorian-Augustinian mission to re-evangelise Britain, of the Pope sending his messenger bearing the Gospel to the Angles, Saxon and Jutes.

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