A rare medieval Bible has been returned to Canterbury Cathedral 500 years after its removal.

The Lyghfield Bible, named after the 16th-century monk who once owned it, was among a number of items removed from the cathedral’s monastic library at the time of the Reformation. The monastic community at Canterbury was one of many that were dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII as he asserted authority over the newly independent church and plundered its assets.

Tim Naish, canon librarian; Cressida Williams, head of archives and library; and Dean Robert Willis

The 690-leaf volume was purchased last month from a private seller at a specialist sale of manuscripts in London. The purchase was funded in part through a £96,000 grant from Britain’s National Heritage Memorial Fund and further funding from the Friends of the National Libraries, the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral, and a private donation.

The purchase of the Lyghfield Bible and its return to Canterbury Cathedral means that the rare manuscript will remain in the United Kingdom.

“The Lyghfield Bible was written in the latter 13th century on high-quality parchment or vellum, which is almost tissue-like in quality,” said a statement from Canterbury Cathedral leaders. “The fine Latin script and extensive and very fine illumination (decoration) was probably produced in Paris, one of the medieval centers for this type of work.

“The Bible is pocket-sized and as such was designed for personal use, possibly whilst traveling. The volume formed part of the collection of the medieval monastery of the Cathedral in the 16th century, but may well have been in Canterbury well before that time.”

“We are very grateful to the support from funders,” said Cressida Williams, the cathedral’s head of archives and library. “The Bible bears witness to the upheavals of the Reformation, a time which defined what the Cathedral is today, and will have a key role in telling visitors our story.”

Adapted from ACNS

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