CALLS are growing for the Lindisfarne Gospels to be returned to the North-East, after a hugely successful three-month loan ended tonight (Monday, September 30).
Campaigners said the 100,000 visitors to this summer’s Durham exhibition emphatically showed the North-East wanted the priceless manuscript “back home”.
Chris Kilkenny, a historian with the Northumbrian Association – which has been campaigning for the Gospels’ repatriation to the North-East for 15 years, said: “We’ve put on a wonderful display which far exceeds anything that happens in London and we’ve shown that we’re more than capable of looking after it.
“It’s been a massive awareness-raising event. Our position is that we want the Lindisfarne Gospels to return permanently to the North-East and I think that’s now held by most North-East people.”
The Gospels were created on Holy Island but have been kept outside the region since the Reformation and are now owned by the British Library, in London.
The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, the Dean of Durham, said the Gospels were “always meant to be understood and proclaimed in the context of Cuthbert’s shrine (Durham Cathedral)” and the community of Saint Cuthbert would have found it difficult to understand the separation.
Durham County Council leader Simon Henig said he was delighted with the reception the Gospels had received in the North-East and very much hoped future loans would he possible.
Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said she wanted them to return to the North-East on a “regular basis”, including to Durham Cathedral.
However, Professor Chris Higgins, the vice-chancellor of Durham University – which hosted this summer’s exhibition at Palace Green Library, said the North-East couldn’t afford to look after the Gospels full-time, they would “always be the permanent property of the British Library” and “we should never seek to change that”.
But he added he was “very confident” regular loans would be allowed.
A British Library spokesman said it looked forward to discussing how to build on the success of this summer’s exhibition but ruled out a permanent move.
He refused to say when and how the Gospels would be returned to London.
However, he did say once back in the capital they would undergo a condition check before going back on display in the Library’s Treasures Gallery in late October.
The earliest they would be lent out again is 2020.