Durham Cathedral secures fragments of work of Venerable Bede at auction at Sotheby's

The fragments of the 8th Century monk's work were kept inside a 15th Century confessional work by a canon lawyer

Canon Librarian Rosalind Brown holding the Summa de Casibus Conscientiae which has been acquired by Durham Cathedral
Canon Librarian Rosalind Brown holding the Summa de Casibus Conscientiae which has been acquired by Durham Cathedral

A generous donation has helped Durham Cathedral secure one of the few remaining fragments of the Venerable Bede’s work.

A pristine copy of Summa de Casibus Conscientiae (Cases of Conscience) printed in Strasbourg in 1474, has been purchased by the cathedral.

The confessional work by the Franciscan canon lawyer and theologian Astesanus of Asti was one of the earliest printed books in Europe and happens to contain two 9th Century fragments of a German copy of the Venerable Bede’s In librum Genesim.

The precious fragments are part of Bede’s commentary on Genesis – the first book of the Bible – and will now return to the famous scholar’s native North East thanks to an anonymous donation which helped to buy the book for £35,000 at a Sotheby’s in London.

Gabriel Sewell, head of collections at the cathedral, said the book is an important addition to the cathedral library and will be available to researchers.

He said: “The 9th Century manuscript fragments of In Genesim are in terrific condition and illustrate Bede’s early international reputation and his circulation on the continent.

“We look forward to making the book available to researchers and visitors in the future.”

The 40cm-long book itself remains in its 15th Century binding.

Cathedral staff bought the treasure at auction on May 20 with support from the anonymous donor and £10,000 from the Friends of National Libraries.

This week it was delivered to the cathedral library.

The tome, known as Summa Astesana, will be among the many treasures which will be displayed in new world class exhibition facilities to be created as part of Durham Cathedral’s £10m Open Treasure project, which is due to be completed next year.

Bede was an 8th Century monk based at the twin monasteries of St Peter in Monkwearmouth and St Paul’s in Jarrow.

He is widely regarded as the father of English history with his Ecclesiastical History of the English People having played a key role in forming the English national identity.

Today, a shrine to Bede can be found in Durham Cathedral’s Galilee Chapel.

Fragments of Bede’s work are rare due to Viking destruction of the Northumbrian libraries.

The oldest copies of his work are said to date from the 9th Century and are often of German origin.


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