A few days ago the Bede returned to Durham. After a 150 year old Chestnut tree was cut down from the Cathedral grounds, it was carved into the ‘Young Bede’ by the sculptor Fenwick Lawson and taken to the Pontifical Beda College, Rome. Now Fondeira Boccea has made a Bronze casting of the statue, and the casting has come back home to sit in the entrance to the Palace Green library. The unveiling was all part of the build-up to the opening of the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition (which you will see advertised on most Durham buses), also featured at the Palace Green library, which has been given a complete makeover to host the event. Indeed, the Lindisfarne Gospels book is one of the most precious manuscripts in Britain. It was produced around 700 AD in the monastery at Lindisfarne, just off the coast of Northumberland. It was made to commemorate the life of St. Cuthbert. However, not only a work of literacy, it is also an astonishing work of art, being decorated with the Hiberno-Saxon style, which is thought to combine Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic designs, demonstrating the cultural diversity seen in Britain at this time.
However, it is not the only attraction on show; other manuscripts will include the St. Cuthbert Gospel and Durham gospels, as well as a glittering array of gold, amber and silver artefacts from the period. Descriptions of the event suggests that much effort has been put into making the exhibition interactive and engaging for all ages, by merging technology, performances, activities and events with the traditional museum experience. Other run-up events have included Richard Hardwick, the writer-in-residence for Durham University and photographer Paul Alexander Knox, retracing the final journey of St. Cuthbert – from his resting place in Lindisfarne monastery to Durham Cathedral, where he still lies today. Evidently this aims to be an exciting exhibition, which reflects Durham University’s reputation of learning and engagement (as well as having a liking for very expensive artwork). This will give students a rare opportunity to view such precious manuscripts alongside a wealth of information about their context, so it seems a shame that Durham University has indirectly barred many students from attending.
Surprised? Let me explain. The exhibition is set to run from the 1st of June to the 30th of September – a period which neatly fits into the undergraduate holiday when most of us have departed for sunnier climes. Even if you fancied staying during the holiday especially to go to the exhibition, colleges will not accommodate students and for livers out many contracts finish on the 1st on July. Simply put, if students want to see the Gospel they will have to spend their all too limited finances on hotel rooms – in essence take a holiday in the city they spend over half of the year.
However, when I questioned the organisers of the exhibition, they explained that the display had been timed specifically with a ‘region-wide desire to see the Gospels on display in the North East for the first time in over a decade’ and that ‘all project partners…have been adamant that as many people as possible engage with the Lindisfarne Gospels and that the North East, as a whole, benefits from the loan’. Whilst the sentiments are good, it is a fact that by having the exhibition even a week or two earlier or later would enable the student population (who forms half of Durham city’s population) to attend.
It is true that there have been opportunities for students to get involved in the run up events, but without the opportunity to see the exhibition, it almost seems rather futile. However, this still promises to be an exciting exhibition, and I encourage all of you who can go to do so – but for those of us who can’t, we just have to accept that this will be one of life’s missed opportunities.