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Died c. 758. A monk hermit at Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumberland in northern England, Bilfred was an expert goldsmith. He bound with gold, silver, and gems the famous Saint Cuthbert's copy of the Gospels of Lindisfarne, written and illuminated by bishop Eaddfrid. In life and in death he was the centre of great popular veneration (Benedictines, Delaney).

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St. Billfrid and the Lindisfarne Gospels c.756

Billfrid, before he became a hermit, was a distinguished goldsmith and was venerated as a saint during his life and after his death. St. Ethelwold commissioned him to make a cover for the precious Gospels of the Abbey at Lindisfarne. The history of this manuscript is known from a note written at the end of the book when the monks who guarded it and the body of St. Cuthbert were at Chester-le-Street.

Eadfrith, Bishop of the church at Lindisfarne,
he first wrote this book for God and St. Cuthbert
and for all the saints in common that are in the island,
and Ethilwald, Bishop of those of Lindisfarne Island,
bound and covered it outwardly as well as he could.
And Billfrith the anchorite he wrought as a smith the
ornaments on the outside and adorned it with gold and
with gems, and also with silver over-gilded,
a treasure without deceit

The Gospels were at Lindisfarne for almost two hundred years, but they were very nearly lost when the island was abandoned in 875 because of the Danish raids. Symeon of Durham describes the anguish of the monks when the ship carrying the Gospels was hit by a storm and the book sank into the depths of the sea. The Gospels were miraculously recovered through the intervention of St. Cuthbert and St. Billfrid, the former appearing in a vision to one of the monks telling them to search the shore at low tide. This they did and, after searching for more than three miles, they came across the book, its gold and jewels gleaming and the pages unharmed by its immersion in salt water.

At Chester-le-Street the monk Aldred translated the Latin into the Northumbrian dialect, writing the words beneath the Latin script and so making the first English version of the Gospels. It was treasured at Durham until the Dissolution, when the cover was melted down, but the book itself is now in the British Museum. St. Billfrid's relics were discovered after a vision by a priest, Alfred Westow, and translated to Durham where he is commemorated with St. Baldred on March 6th also (Graham).

Painted Labyrinth - the World of the Lindisfarne Gospels
You can 'turn the pages' of the Lindisfarne Gospels now! We have selected 40 of the most beautiful pages from the manuscript.

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