Now known as the Lyghfield Bible, after monk ‘William Lighfyld’, it was made in the third quarter of the 13th century and had formed part of Canterbury cathedral's collection for many decades before it was sold off after the Reformation.
The cathedral paid a hammer price of £100,000 at Bloomsbury Auctions’ sale of Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures on July 10. The purchase was made possible with a grant of almost £96,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), the Friends of the National Libraries, Friends of Canterbury Cathedral and a private donation.
The pocket-sized bible, probably produced in France, formed part of a collection of bibles at the medieval monastery in Canterbury in the 16th century and is likely to have been in the city before this time. This copy is described as the “finest example of a complete illuminated book” from that Canterbury collection.
As the monastic community was disbanded during the Reformation, the library and book collection of the cathedral were dispersed, with many volumes destroyed or taken apart.
After its removal from Canterbury it has passed through numerous different hands over the centuries.
During the 17th and 18th century it was owned by a number of private collectors, passing through book dealer Bernard Quaritch in the 19th century and Maggs Bros in 1958.
It was sold at Sotheby’s in December 1967 for £850 and was later owned by The Schøyen Collection and housed in its giant manuscript collection in Oslo, Norway.
Cressida Williams, Canterbury Cathedral head of archives and library, said: “It is of the utmost significance to us to have here in our collections a copy of the core Christian text which was owned by one of the last monks of the medieval monastic community.
“The bible bears witness to the upheavals of the Reformation, a time which defined what the cathedral is today, and will have a key role in telling visitors our story.”
The bible will be displayed in a new exhibition area being developed at the cathedral as part of a project called The Canterbury Journey.
Last year the cathedral bought an engraving of ‘Canterbury’s Magna Carta’ of 1215 after it was sold at auction at The Canterbury Auction Galleries.