We humans have a special kind of awe for the oldest examples of the fruits of our creativity and intelligence. As we’ve discussed before, the artifacts we produce are a large part of what separates us from animals, and so we are justifiably proud of them. So when we can unearth an artifact and say this one is “the first,” or at least the oldest one we have, it has a deep significance.
10. The Oldest Intact European Book
What is the world’s oldest surviving book? Because the definition of a book has been debated since the very beginning of literature, that’s a hard question to answer and could easily encompass another whole article.
However, the oldest intact, European, bound book of the sort we are all used to reading nowadays is the St. Cuthbert Gospel (also known as the Stonyhurst Gospel or the St. Cuthbert Gospel of St. John). The red, leather-bound, and illuminated gospel book was written in Latin in the seventh century.
In 2012, the British Library in London paid an astounding $14 million to the Jesuit community in Belgium that owned the book, after the most successful fund-raising campaign in that nation’s history. A fully digitized version is now available online.
The book was a copy of the Gospel of St. John, originally produced in northeastern England for Saint Cuthbert and placed into his coffin over 1,300 years ago when he died. When Vikings began raiding the northeast coast of England, St. Cuthbert’s monastic community left their place on the island of Lindisfarne and took the coffin with them, preserving the book once they settled in Durham. The coffin was opened in 1104 when a new shrine was being built for the saint, and the book was discovered and preserved, changing hands until it passed on to the Jesuits.