Skip to main content

History made at Canterbury Cathedral

History made at Canterbury Cathedral

Two ancient artefacts relating to the early years of the history of Christianity in this country have been brought together for the first time at Canterbury Cathedral

At the closing service of the Primates’ gathering in the Cathedral crypt, the ‘St Augustine Gospels’ was displayed alongside the crozier head associated with Pope Gregory the Great. The Gospels came to Canterbury as a generous loan from the Master and Governing Body of Corpus Christi College Cambridge.

The Gospel Book of St Augustine, also known as the ‘Canterbury Gospels’, is an illuminated manuscript copy of the four Gospels in Latin produced in Italy in the late 6th century. It is the oldest illustrated copy of the Gospels in the European tradition.

The Gospel Book was almost certainly brought to Canterbury as part of the mission to England led by St Augustine in 597, which was sent by Pope Gregory the Great. St Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Gospel Book was preserved as a relic of the saint at St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury. At the Reformation, the book entered the collection of Archbishop Matthew Parker, who gave it to Corpus Christi College.

The ‘St Augustine Gospels’ has a very strong association with the history of Christianity in England. Since 1945, Archbishops of Canterbury have sworn their oaths on the Gospel Book during their enthronements in the cathedral. The Gospel Book was also brought to Canterbury for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982, and was present in Westminster Abbey when Pope Benedict XVI visited the UK in 2010.

Canon Christopher Irvine, Canon Librarian of Canterbury Cathedral, said:

 The St Augustine Gospels is a potent symbol for those gathered at Canterbury of the faith we share. The book reminds us that the Gospel of Christ is a gift, a gift to be received, lived out, and shared with others.


Dr Christopher de Hamel, Fellow Librarian of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, said:

It is very moving that a book of such a date still has the power to focus the mind spiritually.


The crozier head has been in the crypt for the week whilst the Primates have been in Canterbury and it was on public display last weekend and will be this weekend (Saturday 16 January from 10am until 4pm and Sunday 17 January 12noon until 2pm). Normal Precincts charges will apply.

It was loaned to the Cathedral from the Roman Catholic Church where it is venerated by the San Gregorio al Celio monastery as having belonged to Pope Gregory the Great, who was an abbot there prior to becoming Pope.

The loan of the crozier head has been made possible by the Italian Government’s Fund for Religious Buildings, administered by the Ministry for the Interior and with support from the British Government.

Back to top of page