The Lindisfarne Gospels colophons

Introduction: The Lindisfarne Gospels (London, British Library, Cotton MS Nero D IV) is an imposing volume containing the four Gospels. It was written and decorated at the beginning of the eighth century. Sometime around 950, a priest named Aldred translated each word of the Gospels into Old English and added information about himself and the original creation of the book. Most scholars accept that Aldred was recording a long oral tradition and that the book was a relic connected to Cuthbert, a local saint whose remains were in the Lindisfarne monastery.

Aldred’s name first appears in a marginal Old English inscription on fol. 89v, the end of Matthew’s Gospel. The other three are on the last page of the book, fol. 259r, which contains the end of John’s Gospel. Words in square brackets are added here to aid comprehension.

Translations: Some passages have been simplified and words added in brackets to aid comprehension.

Fol. 89v:
You living God, remember Eadfrith and Æthelwald and Billfrith and Aldred, a sinner; these four, with God, were involved with this book.
Fol. 259r:

(a) Marginal colophon 1 (upper right margin; Latin hexameter):
May the letter, a loyal servant of speech, reveal me. Kindly greet all my brothers with [your] voice.
(b) Verse colophon (second column after the text of John; Latin with Old English translation):
The three-and-one God established this Gospel before time. Matthew wrote from the mouth of Christ. Mark wrote from the mouth of Peter. Luke wrote from the mouth of Paul the apostle. John in the prologue then belched forth the Word, and wrote with God and the Holy Spirit granting it to him [as a gift].
(c) Main colophon (after the verse colophon; Old English with some Latin):
Eadfrith, bishop of the Lindisfarne church, first copied out this book for God and for St. Cuthbert and for all the saints whose remains are on the island. And Æthelwald, bishop of the islanders of Lindisfarne, bound it on the outside and covered it as well as he could. And the anchorite Billfrith forged the ornaments that are on the outside and decorated it with gold and with gems and also with pure gilded silver. And Aldred, an unworthy and most pitiable priest, glossed it in English with the help of God and of St. Cuthbert. And he made it like a home for himself in three sections: Matthew’s part was for God and for St. Cuthbert; Mark’s was for the bishop; and Luke’s was for the community, with eight ores of silver as a fee for [Aldred’s] admission [to the community]. And St. John’s section was for himself, with four ores of silver for God and St. Cuthbert, so that he might have passage into heaven through God’s grace, happiness and peace on Earth henceforth, as well as honor, wisdom, and prudence through the merits of St. Cuthbert.

Eadfrith, Æthelwald, Billfrith, and Aldred made or ornamented this Gospel for God and Cuthbert.
(d) Marginal colophon 2 (bottom right margin; Latin verse):
Of Ælfred born, Aldred I am called As a good woman’s exceptional son I speak.

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