The Glastonbury Bible page written 800 years ago that's back in Somerset

A page from a bible written by monks 800 years ago has returned home to Somerset.

The piece of text has gone on display for the first time at Glastonbury Abbey, where it was written in the 1200s.

Only around the size of a piece of A5 paper, the double-sided page has gone on public display for the first time. The page has been loaned by Bristol University, which bought it at auction in 2020.

Featuring Latin text, ornate lettering and full colour decoration, the hand-written page contains the beginning of the Old Testament Books of Chronicles, narrating the history of Israel and Judah from the Creation.

The page features intricate and ornate coloured lettering

Written on vellum paper (prepared animal skin), the coloured writing and decorations were produced using a technique known as 'tempera', in which pigments - usually taken from natural materials such as stone, minerals and soil - were mixed with a water-soluble emulsion, usually an egg yolk. This technique had been used for centuries until it started to phase out in the 13th century, giving another indication of the bible’s age. 

Founded in the 7th century, Glastonbury Abbey became one of the wealthiest Benedictine monasteries in medieval England. Its fortunes improved following the discovery, in 1191, of the supposed graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, which attracted many visitors and pilgrims to the site, including royalty.

The abbey’s Collections Manager Lucy Newman said: “This is so exciting for us. It’s like a tiny jewel because it’s so small yet so important in the history of the abbey.

"It’s such a beautiful object; to think that so much work and detail could have gone into such a small page, and the age of it is just incredible.

“The quality of it is utterly amazing, considering its age, and it’s the workmanship that would have gone into writing it that’s astonishing, when you consider the writing materials they would have had to use 800 years ago.

"It was here in the Abbey's Library until the dissolution in 1539, after which it disappeared into private collections and then it appeared again in the 1980s when it was on sale at Sotheby's where it was sadly purchased and then broken up and has ended up in a number of different places around the world."

The page is being carefully kept in a case and in low light to protect it. It will remain on display at Glastonbury Abbey until 2 October.