past weekend, my services were required to help chaperon my wife and kids up to
London to meet a friend. After the trip, I wasn't needed again for five or
six hours, so I was left with a lot of time to kill in London. Now, lucky for
me, our train arrived into St. Pancras which happens to be just down the road from
the British Library, who are currently running an exhibition called
Anglo-Saxons: Art, Word, War.
arrived at the British Library just after 10 in the morning. When I went up to
purchase my ticket to the exhibition, they said the next available slot was
12:30! Guess I should have booked in advance. Well, thankfully, I had nothing
better to do, so I bought the ticket. I spent the next few hours poking around the
shop, the book store, and a couple of other smaller exhibitions. I investigated
both cafés. Finally, it was time.
getting there on the dot of 12:30 the exhibition was already crammed, mostly
with people lingering from earlier admissions, but also from other eager attendees.
It is no wonder, really. The exhibition is stunning – eight or nine rooms
crammed with artefacts. Mostly these were ancient tomes, but also included bits
from Sutton Hoo (on loan from the British Museum), Alfred’s Jewel (on loan from
the Ashmolean), and, of great excitement since I hadn’t seen them before,
several pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard, including the famous bent cross!
Glorious, glorious stuff.
really, it was about the books - scores, maybe hundreds of books. All of the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were there. The Domesday Book, which got a room to
itself as well as a movie. Judith’s Gospel. The works of the Venerable Bede!
My heart though was set on seeing one specific work, and I missed it the first
time through. I had to ask a security guard, and he walked me through half the
exhibition. There, in a little corner, given no more standing that any of the
books around it, was Beowulf. The only surviving manuscript of the only
Anglo-Saxon epic poem. How less rich would the world be if not for this
collection of papers that were slightly singed in a fire some centuries ago…
saw Beowulf, and another little geek dream came true.
exhibition runs through February 19, so if you are in London and have any
interest in the Anglo-Saxons, Beowulf, or really old books, you really must go.
It’s not cheap at £16 entry, but it is seriously worth it. It is an utterly
unique collection. My advice though – book in advance! If you can't make it to the exhibition, you might want to consider picking up the exhibition book. It's a pretty incredible tome itself!
those who might be wondering, my favourite translation of Beowulf remains the
one by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. It’s not the most literal translation, but
for me, it captures the spirit like no other.