Beginning of Mark, in a Burnt Fragment of the Gospels
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
Badly damaged in the 1731 Cotton library fire, this gospel book, which survives only in fragments, is now divided between the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and the British Library. It was once magnificent, with close relationships in its script and decoration to the Lindisfarne Gospels, the fragments of the gospel book at Durham Cathedral, and the Book of Kells. Thought by some scholars to have been made before the Lindisfarne Gospels, no one is certain where it was made. Its similarities to the above-mentioned manuscripts suggest that its origins lie in the network of monasteries founded by St Columba and his successors at Iona, which includes Lindisfarne as well as foundations in Ireland and Scotland.
The Gospel of Mark in Latin begins, "Initium evangelii Iesu Christi" ("The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ"). On this page, most of the first word is visible, written in the large decorated letters that are typical of early gospel manuscripts from Britain and Ireland (called 'Insular'). The design of the letter 'N' is also characteristic, with the diagonal element formed of discs of spirals and animal ornament. Within the letter itself, red interlace has animal heads--one of the earliest instances of the use of animal designs to decorate letters in Insular manuscripts. At the top of the page, the red writing originally identified the "gospel according to Mark." The page is so damaged and shrunk by the fire, however, that it is now translucent, the writing on its reverse visible from this side.