The British Library has launched a major fundraising campaign to buy the St. Cuthbert Gospel, a remarkably preserved survivor from seventh-century Britain.
The British branch of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) has agreed to sell the book for 9 million pounds ($14.5 million), and the library already has commitments for 5 million pounds.
The small book _ 96 mm (3.8 inches) by 136 mm (5.4 inches) _ fits easily in the palm of a hand. Its elaborately tooled leather cover, and the text of the Gospel of John in Latin, is complete.
The book comes from the time of St. Cuthbert, who died in 687, and it was discovered inside his coffin at Durham Cathedral when it was reopened in 1104.
"The St. Cuthbert Gospel is an almost miraculous survival from the Anglo-Saxon period, a beautifully preserved window into a rich, sophisticated culture that flourished some four centuries before the Norman Conquest," said the library's chief executive, Lynne Brindley.
Cuthbert's coffin arrived in Durham after monks had removed it from the island of Lindisfarne, 330 miles (530 kilometers) north of London, to protect the remains from Viking raiders in the 9th and 10th centuries.
The library said it had agreed with institutions in Northumbria, the region where Cuthbert lived, to let the gospel be displayed at Durham Cathedral and other institutions as well as in London.