Palace Green Library: Bound to Last

Palace Green Library

Palace Green Library

IN search of inspiration for my calligraphy class project, I headed to Palace Green Library in Durham to see Bound to Last: Book Binding from the Middle Ages to the Modern Day.

It was my first visit to the library, part of Durham University, and I doubt it will be the last. I might even take the children along after seeing the family-friendly activities on offer!

Our teacher, Susan Moor, has set us the task of creating a book in the final weeks of our course and last week she brought in some examples for us to look at.

I doubt I’ll come up with anything as impressive as the books on show at Palace Green Library, but they certainly provided food for thought.

St Cuthbert's Gospel

St Cuthbert’s Gospel © The British Library Board, ADD.89000

The oldest book on show is the Gospel of John, created in the early 8th century at the twin monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow. It is the oldest European book still in its original binding of deep, red leather.

It was found at St Cuthbert’s head when his coffin was opened in 1104.

There’s also a replica Pauline Epistle and Gospel of St John. The original dates from c600, but the replica was made in the late-1930s.

There are also two Trier book covers, made for a Benedictine monastery in Trier, Germany. Such treasured, or jewelled, bindings were a featured of sacred texts in the medieval period, as many were designed to sit on the high alter.

Few now survive as part of a binding as they have been broken up over the years.

Monasteries were the first producers of books and when commercial printing houses developed outside of monasteries, binding was a separate trade.

Bound to LastBy the early 19th century, books began to be sold in trade bindings and before long, Victorian men and women could pick up a cheap novel in a functional binding at the station before a train journey.

An example of such ‘cheap’ binding – a 2009 paperback copy of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code – and an e-book reader cover bring the exhibition bang up to date. And probably more to my level when it comes to creating a book cover!

Bound to Last runs until January 4. For more information, click here.


1 Comment

  1. Jo a Davis on November 13, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    i must go to see this sounds fascinating… I was at the Library a couple of weeks ago during the Durham Book Festival for a session & it is an amazing place with amazing collections! Thanks for flagging this one! Hadn’t spotted it!

Leave a Comment