An ancient manuscript comes home

An ancient manuscript comes home

An exceptionally rare early 11th century charter has been secured for the nation, thanks to a £114,500 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). It has been purchased by Canterbury Cathedral Archives and it will now return home to Canterbury where it was written almost 1,000 years ago.

Created between 1013 and 1020 and written in Old English, ‘The Godwine Charter’ provides a rare insight into ordinary Anglo-Saxon daily business and life. It is almost certainly the last complete text in Old English to come up for sale on the open market and it provides highly important evidence of the language used for official purposes at this time.

Consisting of five lines written in brown ink on vellum, it records the sale of land by a certain Godwine to Leofwine the Red. The sale was agreed in Canterbury, witnessed by Lyfing, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Abbot of St Augustine’s Abbey, the monastic communities of the Abbey and the Cathedral, three young noblemen and various ‘good men’ of the City of Canterbury and beyond.

The fascinating insight into the everyday lives of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors offered by the Godwine Charter really impressed trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund. We are delighted to have helped to safeguard it and return it to Canterbury Cathedral where it will now be available for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of NHMF

08 - byline- LtoR Jonathan Hancock ( KU MEMS Masters) Freddie Chodel ( KU MEMS Masters) Canon Irvine Nicole Bertzen ( KU PHD in History) Zoe Boden (KU MEMS Masters)At the Cathedral Archives, the charter joins collections of national and international importance, and is reunited with some 20 original charters, dating from before the Norman Conquest of 1066. These Anglo-Saxon charters are the oldest part of the written heritage of the Cathedral and the city.

The charter will be cared for at the Cathedral Archives and made available for study and display. It will be displayed initially at the Beaney art gallery and museum in Canterbury from mid-June 2013. Canterbury Cathedral will be holding a public lecture on its Anglo-Saxon charters later in 2013, as well as a family activity day, when we will relate the charter to archaeological finds from the Anglo-Saxon period.

I am very pleased to hear that the Godwine Charter has been brought back to Canterbury. This is a thoroughly local charter from Canterbury, and it would have the power to inspire those who see it to take further interest in their past. I hope that the successors to the “many good men within the city” will enjoy seeing this document, and imagining themselves in Canterbury one thousand years ago.

Simon Keynes, Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Cambridge

We at Canterbury Cathedral are delighted to be able to bring the Godwine Charter back home, where it can tell its story to all who see it. It is an important part of the heritage of our Cathedral, and indeed of our city. We are most grateful to all who have helped us secure the future of this document.

Canon Christopher Irvine, Canon Librarian

Financial support was also received from the Friends of the National Libraries, the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral, the Coral Samuel Charitable Trust and private donations. The charter was acquired from the Schoyen Collection as a private treaty sale through Sotheby’s of London.