The St Augustine Gospels provides a tangible link with the earliest days of the Anglo-Saxon Church. It was made in Italy in the late 6th century, and it may have come to Kent in 597 with the mission directed by Pope Gregory (d. 604), or have been one of the manuscripts with which Gregory supplied a second mission in 601.
Books such as this reintroduced the Christian scriptures to southern England in the 7th century, and provided Mediterranean models for the script, text and decoration of manuscripts subsequently made in many English churches.
The illustrations in the St Augustine Gospels made it particularly suitable for missionary work. Pope Gregory I had instructed that images should provide ‘a living reading of the Lord’s story for those who cannot read’. Two full pages of decoration survive in this manuscript. On one page (f. 125v), in a grid formation, are twelve scenes from the Passion of Christ.
The page shown here (f. 129v) contains a portrait of St Luke, flanked by scenes from his Gospel. Portraits of Matthew, Mark and John, and another page with scenes completing the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, are thought to have been present originally, perhaps with a page of scenes from Christ’s early life.