Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War opens at the British Library

The British Library has opened what they are calling the largest ever exhibition on Anglo-Saxon England. Bringing together unique manuscripts, charters and archaeological artefacts, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War it will give viewers the opportunity to encounter six centuries of history, from the eclipse of Roman Britain in the 5th century to the Norman Conquest of 1066.

The exhibition will feature famous figures such as King Alfred the Great and King Cnut, and it will reveal a highly developed culture, deeply connected with its European neighbours, from Ireland in the west to the eastern Mediterranean. It will also highlight the key role manuscripts played in the transmission of ideas, religion, literature and artistic influences throughout England and across political and geographical boundaries, as well as the sophisticated skill and craftsmanship of the artwork produced at this time.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War exhibition at the British Library – photo by Sandra Alvarez, The Medieval Magazine

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see an outstanding array of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and objects produced over six centuries, which demonstrate the sophistication and interconnected European world of Anglo-Saxon art, literature and history,” explains. Dr Claire Breay, Lead Curator of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

Codex Amiatinus – photo by Sandra Alvarez, The Medieval Magazine

Codex Amiatinus, the earliest surviving complete Bible in Latin made at the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in the north-east of England in the early 8th century and taken to Italy in 716 as a gift for the Pope. It will be returning to England for the first time in more than 1300 years, on loan from the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence

The Golden Gospels from Francia – photo by Sandra Alvarez, The Medieval Magazine

Outstanding illuminated and decorated manuscripts, including the St Augustine Gospels on loan from Corpus Christi College Cambridge, the Book of Durrow on loan from Trinity College Dublin and the Echternach Gospels on loan from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, on display with the British Library’s Lindisfarne Gospels, and the Utrecht, Harley and Eadwine Psalters from Utrecht University Library, the British Library and Trinity College Cambridge respectively

The Vercelli Book – photo by Sandra Alvarez, The Medieval Magazine

The four principal manuscripts of Old English poetry on display together for the first time, with the British Library’s unique manuscript of Beowulf displayed alongside: the Vercelli Book returning to England for the first time from the Biblioteca Capitolare in Vercelli; the Exeter Book on loan from Exeter Cathedral Library; and the Junius Manuscript on loan from the Bodleian Library

Domesday (c) The National Archives

Domesday Book, the most famous book in English history and the earliest surviving public record, on loan from The National Archives; it provides unrivalled evidence for the landscape and administration of late Anglo-Saxon England

The Alfred Jewel – photo by Sandra Alvarez, The Medieval Magazine

A number of recently discovered archaeological objects including the Binham Hoard, the largest collection of gold from 6th century Britain, on loan from the Norfolk Museums Service; the Lichfield Angel, which has never been displayed outside of Lichfield since it was excavated in 2003, on loan from Lichfield Cathedral; and key objects from the Staffordshire Hoard, discovered in 2009, the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, on loan from Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery; together with other exceptional objects such as the Sutton Hoo gold buckle and the Fuller Brooch on loan from the British Museum, and the Alfred Jewel, on loan from the Ashmolean Museum

Vespasian Psalter (c) British Library Board

The River Erne horn, a wooden trumpet from the 8th century discovered in the river in the 1950s on loan from National Museums Ireland, will be displayed for the first time alongside the Vespasian Psalter, which includes the oldest translation of part of the Bible into English and depicts two musicians playing similar instruments

The Fonthill Letter – the earliest surviving letter in English – photo by Sandra Alvarez, The Medieval Magazine

The earliest surviving English charter, issued in 679 and granting land to the Abbot of Reculver; the oldest original letter written in England, from the Bishop of London to the Archbishop of Canterbury, dating from early 8th century; and the earliest surviving letter in English, the Fonthill letter, from the early 10th century on loan from Canterbury Cathedral

The St Cuthbert Gospel – photo by Sandra Alvarez, The Medieval Magazine

St Cuthbert Gospel, the oldest intact European book with its original binding, made at the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in the north-east of England in the early 8th century; it was acquired by the British Library in 2012 following the Library’s most ambitious and successful fundraising campaign for an acquisition.


There will be a varied programme of events comprising discussions, lectures and music performances, as well as learning activities, including school workshops, teacher events and adult courses, to accompany the exhibition.

The British Library has made its outstanding collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and charters available online in full, allowing people around the world to explore them in detail, and to support future research in the field. Click here for more details.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War runs from 19 October 2018 to 19 February 2019. Please visit the British Library website for more details.

Top Image: Codex Amiatinus on loan from Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms at the British Library (c) Sam Lane Photography



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