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The E-Sylum:  Volume 3, Number 35, August 27, 2000, Article 6

VIKING BOOK DEALERS 

   Asylum Editor E. Tomlinson Fort writes: "While doing some 
   research upon another topic I came across the following 
   document.  It is an Old English record of the presentation of a 
   work now known as the Golden Gospels to the monks of 
   Christ Church Canterbury: 

   In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I, Ealdorman Alfred and 
   Wærburh my wife obtained these books from the Viking army 
   with our pure money, that was with pure gold, and this we did 
   for the love of God and for the benefit of our souls and 
   because we did not wish these holy books to remain longer in 
   heathen possession.  And now we wish to give them to Christ 
   Church to the praise and glory and honor of God, and in 
   gratitude for his Passion, and for the use of the religious 
   community which daily raises praise to God in Christ Church, 
   on condition that they will be read every month for the sake of 
   Alfred and Wærburh and Ealhthryth, for the eternal remedy of 
   their souls, as long as God has foreseen that the Christian faith 
   will continue at that place. Moreover I, Ealdorman Alfred and 
   Wærburh beg and implore in the name of Almighty God and 
   of all his saints that no man be so presumptuous as to give 
   away or remove these holy books from Christ Church, as long 
   as the Christian faith may endure. 

   [Witnesses] 
  Alfred 
  Wærburh 
   Ealhthryth their daughter 

   The gospel book is an English work dating from the eighth 
   century. How and where a Viking army acquired them is 
   unknown, though they were probably taken in a raid on a 
   monastery or church. This record is not dated, but the 
   ealdorman Alfred is presumably the one whose last will and 
   testament dates from sometime between 871 and 888 [The 
   will mentions both King Alfred the Great of Wessex, who 
   came to the throne in 871, and Archbishop Æthelræd of 
   Canterbury, who died in 888]. Thus, Ealdorman Alfred must 
   have made his grant during the last quarter of the ninth century. 

   Alfred's notice that he paid for the book in gold coin is 
   unusual since such had not been produced in western 
   Europe since early in the reign of Louis the Pious (814-840). 
   One wonders if the gold may have been a part of the hoard 
   of Roman gold coins recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 
   [s.a. 418] and which may have inspired the types struck 
   between c.874 and c.885 by Alfred the Great and Ceolwulf II 
   of Mercia. 

   Today, Ealdorman Alfred's Golden Gospels are in the Royal 
   Library at Stockholm in Denmark.  When the library acquired 
   them is not known. But it is likely that the book was lost to 
   Christ Church during the Reformation and that it somehow 
   made its way across the North Sea to Denmark. 

   By the way, the giving of books to churches and monasteries 
   was not uncommon in the early Middle Ages. Simon Keynes, 
   "King Athelstan's Books" in Learning and Literature in Anglo- 
   Saxon England, ed. M. Lapidge and H. Gneuss (Cambridge, 
   1985), pp.143-202, records that King Athelstan of England 
   (924-939) was not only a bibliophile, but also that a number 
   of the books which he owned or donated still survive." 

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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