Now the largest and most beautiful of 12th-century Bibles is to go on display following a five-year conservation project as part of a landmark exhibition at Winchester cathedral, opening next week. Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation takes visitors through more than 1,000 years of history, including the construction, destruction and remaking of one of the countrys greatest cathedrals over centuries of struggle and civil war.
The Bibles four volumes will be displayed alongside a digitised version that allows visitors to turn pages and zoom in on its exquisite artistry. You dont get grander than this, said Andrew Honey, a book conservator at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. It was the biggest manuscript he had worked on, he said.
The exhibition, funded by a £11.2m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and donations, has been eight years in the planning. It celebrates the history of Winchester and the cathedral, said Catherine Ogle, the dean. Caring for this heritage is an awesome responsibility, and we want to share our wonderful treasures with as many people as possible.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Since 2015, anthropologists have reconstructed 23 partial skeletons, one of them believed to be Queen Emma. Photograph: Robin Jones/Digital South Among those treasures are six finely decorated mortuary chests containing the jumbled bones of royals and bishops dating from the late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods. Since 2015, a team of biological anthropologists from Bristol University has measured and recorded more than 1,300 human bones and reconstructed 23 partial skeletons.
One is believed to be Queen Emma, a powerful political figure who married two successive Kings of England, Ethelred and Canute, and was the mother of King Edward the Confessor and King Harthacnut. She died in 1052. The exhibition includes 3D printed replicas of her bones, including her incomplete skull.
Read more Another treasure is a library of 2,000 volumes, including Bibles, books of sermons, literature and books on plants and animals, bequeathed to the cathedral in 1684 by bishop George Morley. Some books have been digitised to allow visitors close inspection.
The exhibition includes many interactive elements, including the chance to design a panel of a stained glass window. We want to attract people from as many ages and backgrounds as possible, said Ogle.
The cathedral also hopes the exhibition will help secure its financial sustainability. Its entrance fee – £9.50, covering both the cathedral and exhibition – is only paid by about four in 10 of its annual 300,000 visitors, as people attending services are exempt. Officials hope annual visitor numbers to the cathedral, which costs about £12,000 a day to run and maintain, will rise to half a million as a result of the exhibition.
Wed love not to ask for an entrance fee, but the costs are enormous, said Ogle. Since 2012, the cathedral has releaded the presbytery roof, and the presbytery high vault and 15th-century stained glass have been restored.
Construction of the present-day cathedral began in 1079 on the site of an early Christian church, Old Minster. It has the longest nave of any gothic cathedral in Europe, and is the resting place of the 18th-century novelist Jane Austen.
It has been a place of Christian worship for almost 1,500 years, and is still a place of welcome, worship and hospitality, said Ogle.
Scientists believe they may have discovered the remains of an 11th century queen of England in the “first royal mausoleum” discovered at Winchester Cathedral.
Scientists from the University of Bristol have been assessing 1,300 human bones from the Hampshire cathedral with the aim of matching the remains with the names of eight kings, two bishops and one queen whose names are on six mortuary chests.
The researchers believe that some of the remains may belong to Queen Emma of Normandy who died in 1052 in Winchester.
The conservation project was launched in 2012 and three years later, radiocarbon dating carried out by experts from the University of Oxford confirmed the bones were from the late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods.
The team of biological anthropologists from Bristol have since been attempting to assess whether the bones related to the historical burial records.
A cathedral spokesman said: “This process involves recording the contents of the chests and determining the number of individuals represented, along with their sex, age at death and physical characteristics.
“Working in the Lady Chapel at Winchester Cathedral, which became a temporary laboratory, the researchers reassembled over 1,300 human bones, with the aim of restoring the identity of the kings, one queen, and several bishops traditionally thought to be within the chests.”
The spokesman explained that 23 partial skeletons had been reconstructed which is more than the remains of 15 people thought to have been contained in the chests.
The spokesman said: “The ability to identify the sex, age and physical characteristics of these individuals has resulted in some exciting discoveries, including the remains of a mature female dispersed within several chests.
“It is not yet certain, but these bodily remains could be those of Queen Emma, daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, the wife of two successive kings of England, Ethelred and Cnut, and the mother of King Edward the Confessor and King Hardacnut.
“She was a powerful political figure in late Saxon England, and her family ties provided William the Conqueror with a measure of justification for his claim to the English throne.
“Completely unexpected was the discovery of two juvenile skeletons, adolescent boys who had died between the ages of 10 to 15 years in the mid-11th to late 12th-century.
“Their presence in the chests was not recorded and their identity is still unknown, but they were almost certainly of royal blood.”
Professor Kate Robson Brown, who led the investigation, said: “We cannot be certain of the identity of each individual yet, but we are certain that this is a very special assemblage of bones.”
The cathedral spokesman added: “These discoveries could place Winchester Cathedral at the birth of our nation and establish it as the first formal royal mausoleum.”