From the Roots of Metal-Workings The impact of metalworking traditions on the ornamentation of early insular manuscripts cannot be more clear in than in the carpet pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels. This is particularly true when viewing the cross-carpet page introducing Saint Mark’s Gospel, as shown on plate 51 of The Lindisfarne Gospels, and comparing that page with the metal-work pieces discovered at the Sutton Hoo ship burial site. In particular, it is in comparing the motifs and designs of the two where the impact is clearly seen. The carpet page has several distinct features, beginning with the pattern which runs throughout most of the page. It is a very complex interwoven pattern of lines in the general shape of a circle.
Each individual shape can be divided into three rough sections. The three sections of the individual shape consists of a half-circle design at the “bottom” of the shape, and two smaller quarter circles appearing on the top “corners” of the shape. This curvilinear pattern repeats itself upwards of thirty times throughout the page and each shape is connected appearing as one long pattern. This particular ornament can be easily traced to the metal-work’s of Sutton Hoo. This motif of intricate weaving patterns, as found on the carpet page, can be found on many of the pieces discovered on the metal-works of Sutton Hoo. In particular, the curvilinear pattern can be distinctly detected on the enameled circular escutcheon taken from the rim of a hanging bowl at Sutton Hoo, as shown on Place! C in Sutton Hoo Ship Burial: A Handbook.
In this escutcheon, the curvilinear pattern is repeated throughout the object and each circular shape is connected to its fellows. In the center of the carpet page there appears a circle with clearly divided cells in squarish step patterns. These geometric patterns are repeated throughout the central circle. This cell pattern motif can be seen to clearly have its roots in the Sutton Hoo collection. In general, the cell motif appears throughout the Sutton Hoo collection and ranges from circular to squarish. However, in particular, this step pattern is quite obviously seen, though of smaller size, in the half of a gold shoulder clasp displayed in plate F of the Sutton Hoo handbook.
The shoulder clasp shows geometric shapes with each individual shape consisting of a generally four sided figure. On each side of the figure the step cell pattern can be clearly perceived. Surrounding the circle are four sections where lines in an intricate weaving patterns with no definable shape appear. These lines do not come to any straight edges but continue in a curving pattern throughout the individual section. Embedded within those lines are the heads of a bird with a curved beak.
These four sections are incontrovertible evidence that the carpet page’s ornament were derived from the tradition of metal-working. To begin with, the weaving pattern with no edges are consistent with the pieces found at Sutton Hoo. Notably, plate E in the Sutton Hoo handbook of the great gold buckle shows this particular ornament. The buckle’s patterns come to no definable shape but, exactly like the carpet page, consists of an interweaving curving line pattern. However, it is the bird’s head with the curved beak which is the tale-tell sign that the metal-working tradition is the source of this carpet page’s ornament.
The bird’s head is exactly like those bird’s heads found at! Sutton Hoo. Take for instance plate 10 in the Sutton Hoo handbook. The metal fittings from a lyre in the middle of this page very clearly show the exact same bird’s head as in the carpet page. It is clear that from the curved beak to the round eye with a single dot in it, the bird’s heads are frighteningly similar. The comparison is unmistakable.
It is clear that the traditions of metal-working found at Sutton Hoo was the most important source of ornamentation for the Lindisfarne Gospels’ carpet page. The patterns and motifs are strikingly similar and it is without doubt that the carpet page has firm roots in the metal-working tradition of Sutton Hoo. It is obvious from this example and the examples of Sutton Hoo that time holds no barrier to art.