Bede (died 735) wrote two Lives of St Cuthbert (died 687), one in prose and one in verse. Cuthbert was bishop of Lindisfarne from 684 until 686. After his death, his cult became hugely popular in northern England.
This copy of the Lives of St Cuthbert was made in southern England in the mid-930s. It includes the earliest surviving, painted portrait of a king of England. This is an image of King Æthelstan (reigned 924–939), the first king of the English. He is shown presenting a book to St Cuthbert, whose community on Lindisfarne by then had re-located to Chester-le-Street (in 995 they moved to Durham). Æthelstan is shown crowned, in the manner seen in coins of the same period.
After the establishment of the kingdom of the English ‘with pledge and oaths’ at Eamont Bridge, near Penrith in Cumbria, on 12 July 927, King Æthelstan needed to impress all those who exercised power and exerted influence in the land. He set out to achieve this at royal assemblies, and by the distribution of gifts, including treasures, books and holy relics.
In addition to the Lives of St Cuthbert, this manuscript includes a set of lists of bishops, lists of Anglo-Saxons kings and royal genealogies. Æthelstan is known also to have given books to Christ Church, Canterbury, St Augustine’s, Canterbury, and to Bath Abbey. No evidence of a comparable nature exists for any other Anglo-Saxon king, suggesting that Æthelstan was in this respect exceptional.
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- Article by:
- Alison Hudson
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