Mac Durnan Gospels

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Mac Durnan Gospels
London, Lambeth Palace MS 1370
Palaeography (Quaritch) plate07.jpg
Mark 1:1 in the Mac Durnan Gospels
Also known as Book of Mac Durnan
Type Gospels
Date late 9th century (or early 10th)
Place of origin Ireland
Scribe(s) unknown, possibly Máel Brigte mac Tornáin
Script Irish minuscule script
Illumination(s) portraits of the Evangelists
Additions f. 3v: metrical inscription in square capitals

The Mac Durnan Gospels or Book of Mac Durnan (London, Lambeth Palace MS 1370) is an early medieval Irish illuminated manuscript containing the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), now in the collection of the Lambeth Palace Library in London.[1]

Manuscript history[edit]

Vital information concerning the provenance and history of the manuscript comes from an alliterative Latin inscription which was added on folio 3v, possibly by Koenwald (d. 957/8), later bishop of Worcester.[2] It suggests that the manuscript was written or commissioned by Máel Brigte mac Tornáin (d. 927), known as Mac Durnan, abbot of Armagh since 888, who is said to have dedicated the book to God.[3][4] Rearranged in regular metre, the inscription reads:

Mæielbriðus MacDurnani
istum textum per triquadrum
Deo digne dogmatizat
Æthelstanus Anglosæxna
rex et rector Doruernensi
metropoli dat per æuum[5]

The manuscript must have left the scriptorium of Armagh soon after, since it passed into the possession of King Æthelstan of England (r. 924-939), presumably as a diplomatic gift. According to the same inscription, Æthelstan presented the book to Christ Church, Canterbury.[6] The Mac Durnan Gospels offer a unique glimpse on the Irish connections of Æthelstan's court, which is known to have been attended by at least one Irish abbot, Dubinsi, abbot of Bangor.[7]

During the 11th century, six Anglo-Saxon charters were copied into the gospel-book, including writs and records of agreements, the latest being no later than AD 1050.[8]


The text contains the four Gospels of the Latin Vulgate written in Irish minuscule script. The prefatory folio presents the animal symbols of the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Three Gospels are introduced by Evangelist portraits at their opening pages.[3] Related manuscripts associated with Armagh are the Echternach Gospels (MS BNF Lat. 9389), the Máel Brigte Gospels (MS Harley 1802), MS Harley 1023, and the Book of Armagh.



  1. ^ Keynes, "King Athelstan's books", p. 153.
  2. ^ Simon Keynes, "Koenwald." In Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Michael Lapidge et al. 1999.
  3. ^ a b Dodwell, Pictorial arts, p. 92.
  4. ^ Keynes, "King Athelstan's books", p. 154.
  5. ^ Keynes, "King Athelstan's books", p. 156.
  6. ^ Dodwell, Pictorial arts, p. 92. The inscription on f. 3v translates as "Maeilbrithus mac Durnan teaches this Gospel [istum textum, lit. 'this text'] through the tripartite world in a manner worthy of God. But Aethelstan Anglo-Saxon king and ruler gives it to the metropolitan church of Canterbury for ever." McNamara, "The Echternach and Mac Durnan Gospels", p. 218.
  7. ^ Ó Cróinín, Early medieval Ireland, p. 229.
  8. ^ E-sawyer[permanent dead link].

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Dodwell, C.R. The Pictorial Arts of the West 800-1200. New Haven: Yale UP, 1993.
  • Keynes, Simon (1985). "King Athelstan's Books". In Michael Lapidge and Helmut Gneuss. Learning and Literature in Anglo-Saxon England: Studies presented to Peter Clemoes on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday. Cambridge. pp. 143–201. 
  • Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí. Early Medieval Ireland, 400-1200. Longman History of Ireland. London, 1995.

Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander, J.J.G. Insular manuscripts 6th to the 9th century. Survey of manuscripts illuminated in the British Isles 1. London, 1978. No. 70, plate 325.
  • McNamara, Martin. "The Echternach and Mac Durnan Gospels: some common readings and their significance." Peritia 6-7 (1987–88): 217-22.
  • Robinson, J. Armitage. The Times of St. Dunstan. Oxford, 1933. 55-9.

External links[edit]