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Augustine Gospels from Corpus to be used in the King’s Coronation

‘Fit for a King’: King Charles III has requested the ‘precious Gospels’ from the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College

On request of King Charles III himself, the sixth-century Gospels of Augustine of Canterbury are set to be used in his Coronation on Saturday 6th May, where Professor Christopher Kelly, the Master of Corpus Christi College, will carry them in procession. Wearing full academic attire, he will then stand holding the Gospels during the reading of the New Testament, prior to the Anointing.

This marks the tenth time that the Governing Body has given permission for them to leave Corpus with the previous times being the enthronements of the former seven Archbishops of Canterbury and for the visits of Pope John Paul II in 1982 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

His Majesty the King, a former undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge, visited the Parker Library in March 2001 where the Gospels were presented to him.

The Gospels seen in greater detail (Image Credits: Via Corpus Christi College)

Having been preserved in the Parker Library at Corpus for the last 450 years, this volume contains the oldest illustrated Latin Gospels in the world, which have been in use for 1,400 years. This therefore makes them the oldest non-archaeological artefact to have survived in England to date.

Not only does their presence at the Coronation on Saturday reinstate their status as the most pertinent manuscript in England, their significance to the nation as an entirety was affirmed when they were placed onto the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register in 2023.

The Gospels are written in Latin on vellum – prepared from animal skin. (Image Credits: Via Corpus Christi College)

Dr Philippa Hoskin, Director of the Parker Library and Donnelley Fellow Librarian, said, “This book is a key formative moment in British history. Books were fundamental to the success of Augustine’s mission. Without this volume we would lack a tangible connection to the point in British history where the influence of the Roman Church began through the teaching of the Gospels.”

Professor George van Kooten, Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, has studied these illustrations and has noted that, “It’s very easy to follow Christ through the succession of scenes from the Gospels, from his arrival at Jerusalem to the carrying of the cross to the crucifixion.”

Dr Philippa Hoskin and Prof. George van Kooten take a closer look at the Gospels (Image credits: Via Corpus Christi College).

The Gospels were initially maintained for a millennium at St. Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury following Augustine’s mission. However, during the English Reformation in 1538, the Abbey was abolished.

30 years later, Matthew Parker, formerly the Archbishop of Canterbury, was granted with the authority from Queen Elizabeth I to salvage what remained of the dissolved monastic libraries in England. Parker amassed nearly 600 manuscripts and numerous early printed books.

Upon his death in 1575, he left his collection to his Cambridge where he had been both an undergraduate and Master.

(Image Credits: Via Corpus Christi College)

In 2009, Corpus launched ‘Parker on the Web’ which is among the earliest digitalisation projects of manuscripts across the globe. In 2017, the public were freely granted access to the wonders housed in the Parker Library, including online admission to these very Gospels.

The Master of the College stated , “The Parker Library is at the heart of Corpus Christi College and reflects the centuries of teaching and research that has been our core mission since 1352.”

“I am delighted that the King recognised the outstanding significance of the Augustine Gospels, one of the great treasures of Britain.”

“Corpus Christi College – the only college in Oxford or Cambridge to have been founded by townspeople – is proud to hold in safekeeping for the nation a manuscript that has been in continuous use for teaching, preaching and research for over 1,400 years.”