I spent this week at The Center for the Book in San Francisco learning how to make St. Cuthbert’s Gospel of John, an early 8th century binding, the oldest existing European binding.
Cuthbert was a seventh century monk. He was revered while still alive, a very popular man admired for his humility and his devotion. When he died he was buried with five items, a lot in 7th century Britain. Among them was a small gospel of John, the size meant for a monk to carry with him in a small pouch or pocket.
When the Viking attacks began, Cuthbert was exhumed and moved to a safer location further from the coast. His body was used as a missionary tool. Britain was still in the process of fully converting at this time, so a relic like the body of an admired saint was a powerful one. The burial items went to various locations and eventually Cuthbert’s Gospel found its way to a university where it remained until the 20th century.
When it came up for auction, the British Library took notice and decided to take the book on “permanent loan” status. Eventually the university was paid six million pounds for St. Cuthbert’s Gospel of John. The folks at the British Library have digitized the entire book which you can see in zoomable format online.
We didn’t quite finish the book by the end of the week so I still have the tooling to do but so far I think my version came out pretty well for a first time book. While I have been making books for a long time this was the first time I have made a book with wood and with leather.
The class met all day for five days so between it and the ferry rides back and forth to The City, I didn’t get any time to blog this week. However, I did have plenty of time to read. And I had a wonderful book to read, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
The reviews have been love/hate; you can put me down as a lover. I have drunk the Ferrante cool-aid and I want more. There are two more books in the trilogy which make up a single story. While book one ends with a wedding, which is typically a good, solid way to bring a story to a close in art, in life a wedding is often the start of the real story, it’s never an ending point, at least for those involved in the marriage. This is true for My Brilliant Friend. While the book ends there, and it does clearly end, it’s also clear that another story is just beginning in the lives of the two young women who make up the focus of the novel.
I honestly have no idea what I’m going to say about the book yet, but that’s a project for tomorrow. Today, I have to finish making St. Cuthbert’s Gospel of John, after C.J. and I get home from The Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco where we hope to catch the final day of High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection. After watching so many seasons of Project Runway, I think we’ll have just the right vocabulary at our disposal. Let’s see: “It’s not fashion, it’s clothing”, “Very editorial,” “color-blocking,” “architectural.”
Should be fun.