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Michael Burke: Buried Alive! Books Unearthed in Our Time

April 25 @ 6:00 pm - 7:15 pm


With Michael Burke, bookbinder and specialist in ancient and medieval bindings

This lecture tells three stories of extraordinary ancient books that were lost for centuries and then found again. All three stories have in common that the manuscripts were deliberately buried underground. The various reasons for their burial, and the occasions of their discovery will be revealed.

The Nag Hammadi Codices, thirteen papyrus books, were discovered in a clay pot Egypt in 1945. Smuggled, sold, and sent all over the world they have now been reunited, and live in the library at Cairo. Michael will tell the story of their discovery, which involves murder, cannabalism and international scholarly squabbling.

The St Cuthbert’s Gospel was made the by monks of Lindisfarne in 692 and buried with Cuthbert when he died. Re-discovered in St Cuthbert’s coffin in the year 1104 in exceptionally good condition, this important manuscript was acquired for the nation in 2005 for £9 million. It is the earliest decorated European binding and strangely, has a design and structure more reminiscent of north African origin. Now on permanent exhibition in the treasures room of the British Library Michael will talk about its history, and how the book was made and decorated.

The third story is that of the Fadden More Psalter, one of the earliest surviving British manuscripts. It was found, miraculously, in a peat bog in Tipperary in 2005. Unlike the other two cases, this book was an appalling mess of squashed and crumpled parchment and leather. It took the conservators at the National Museum of Ireland 4 ½ years to painstakingly unpick the damaged pages, removing 1,300 years of soil, moss and seed pods, before the book could be studied by the scholars. The really curious thing about this book, aside of course from its surprising survival, is that the cover seems not to have been made for the book, but for another one a few hundred years older, now lost, and is clearly from North Africa, linking us right back to the Nag Hammadi books that we started with.

More information and booking details on the Portico website: https://www.theportico.org.uk/event-calendar/buried-alive-books-unearthed-in-our-time

This talk is part of the region’s 50th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Society of Bookbinders in Manchester in 1974.


April 25
6:00 pm - 7:15 pm
Event Category:


The Portico Library
57 Mosely St
Manchester, M2 3HY United Kingdom
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