One of the most spectacular books that belonged to a woman in early medieval England is this extraordinary gospel-book now held in the Morgan Library in New York. It is one of four gospel-books made for Judith of Flanders (died 1094 or 1095). Judith was married to Tostig (the brother of King Harold II), who became the earl of Northumbria in 1055. While in England, Judith had four ornately illuminated Gospel-books made for her. Tostig was killed fighting Harold at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 and Judith later married Welf, duke of Bavaria, around 1070. With Welf, she endowed the abbey of Weingarten, near Ravensburg, with various treasures, including her gospel-books.
The book is contained in a treasure binding of silver-gilt and jewels, with Christ in Majesty flanked by heavenly beings hovering above the Crucifixion. Many gospel-books may once have had sumptuous covers such as this. King Æthelstan (reigned 924–939) added jewelled covers to a gospel-book that he donated to Christ Church Canterbury and the hermit Billfrith was said to have added a gold and silver binding to the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Very few treasure bindings have survived, because their materials were valuable and could be repurposed. This makes it difficult to determine whether this cover was produced in England, like its text, or whether it was added to the book on the Continent, either in Flanders or in the area that is now Germany.
- Article by:
- Alison Hudson
From paganism to Christianity, we explore the religions of Anglo-Saxon England.