Museums chiefs hold Gospel talks

Regional museum chiefs are to hold fresh discussions with the British Library over the future of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Regional museum chiefs are to hold fresh discussions with the British Library over the future of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

A delegation from the North-East will meet counterparts at the British Library in London, which holds the manuscripts, next Wednesday to talk about a panel of experts that will examine the Gospels' condition - with the region able to nominate a member to it.

Alec Coles, director of Tyne and Wear museums, is aiming for a loan of the Gospels and said: "We are really pleased that the library has agreed to discuss this matter with us because we think it gives us a considerable hope for the future." He said the wider issue of restitution of the Gospels - which were taken from Durham Cathedral in 1537 - to the North-East was a "knotty" issue, but stressed it was vital the region stuck together to get the manuscripts back.

Mr Coles also revealed that discussions would be held about the potential loan of other items to the region, the British Library being keen to ensure its collection is shared with the region.

The developments come as campaigners and MPs continue to fight for the seventh century Gospels to be handed back to the North-East - with more than 100,000 people seeing them last time they were in the region.

Stockton South MP Dari Taylor last week raised the subject in Parliament and called on Commons leader Jack Straw to allow MPs to debate the return of the Gospels, but was disappointed with his response.

She warned that thousands of children and their families in the Northern region lacked the opportunity to experience the greatness of some of the artefacts that represented their culture because the British Library and other London museums saw themselves as the guardians of such heritage.

"I refer to the Lindisfarne Gospels, which are stored in the British Library, are regularly resting and are usually seen by five people a year, but when exhibited in the Northern region invariably get more than 100,000 people looking at them. Is it not time that the House debated the greatness of British culture?

"But more particularly the importance of returning to their homes the artefacts of the regions of England so that the people of Great Britain can experience that greatness, as opposed to the five people in London who are doing so currently?" the Labour MP said.

Commons Leader Jack Straw said he understood the comments and would ensure the directors of the British Library and British Museum were made aware of her views.

"As so much of our cultural and political life is centred on London, I hope that we may at some stage be able to develop a scheme similar to those that apply in some other countries, whereby at least once in a child's school career they are able, paid for, to come to London to visit this House and some of the principal museums of the capital," he said.

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