Welsh want English cathedral to return 'their' gospel

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The Independent Online

In a dispute laced with simmering Celtic indignation over age-old Anglo-Saxon prejudice, Wales is calling for an English cathedral to return the ancient gospels it has held for more than 1,000 years.

The eighth-century St Teilo Gospels are said to have been stolen from Llandeilo Fawr, in west Wales AD1000, They now lie in Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire. At the core of the struggle is an academic debate over whether the Welsh were capable of creating the work - renamed St Chad's Gospels by the English.

Although details of land transactions scribbled in their margins are most definitely in Welsh - and represent one of the earliest examples of the written language - historians have argued for centuries that a scholar from Lindisfarne, in the North-east of England, wrote and illustrated them.

But the Welsh Heritage Campaign, steeled by the Stone of Scone's return to Scotland and recent negotiations to send the Lindisfarne Gospels themselves back to the North-east, insists this view is steeped in prejudice. The Rev Peter Bement, the vicar of Llandeilo, said: "It stems from the Anglo-Saxon idea that we were incapable of producing an artifice of this kind. The suggestion that Wales could not have written them is based on the old prejudices of [English] historians such as the Venerable Bede."

Lichfield Cathedral denies any Welsh claim on the work, which was written, in Latin, on parchment with a quill pen.

The cathedral's librarian, Pat Bancroft, said a monk trained on Lindisfarne wrote the book in Lichfield AD700 and that it visited Wales briefly, at which point the marginalia was probably added. Ms Bancroft said: "The gospels were written here at the time of St Chad's death. They were brought here quite legally when they were given to the bishop in AD900, but we do not know where they came from. They have been here ever since but the case for their return is quite frail."

Llandeilo has promised to create a suitable home for the gospels if they are returned. Henry Jones-Davies, publisher of Cambria magazine, which has led the campaign, said: "They would be afforded all the appropriate majesty and pomp. If you learn that the great old painting hanging over your fireplace for generations is a part of someone else's collection, there is a duty to return it."