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The Book of Kells, c. 800, showing the lavishly decorated text that opens the Gospel of John.

The Gospel Book, or Book of the Gospels (Greek: Εὐαγγέλιον, Evangélion) is a codex or bound volume containing one or more of the four Gospels of the Christian New Testament. It contains the full text in normal sequence, thus differing from an Evangeliary, which only has those portions of the Gospels used in the Mass and other services.


In the early Middle Ages, the production of copies of the Bible in its entirety was rare. Individual books or collections of books were produced for specific purposes. Gospel Books were produced for both private study and as "display books" for ceremonial and ornamental purposes. Many of these volumes were elaborate; the Gospel Book was the most common form of heavily illuminated manuscript until about the 11th century, when the Romanesque Bible and Psalter largely superseded it in the West. In the East they remained a significant subject for illumination until the arrival of printing. The Evangelist portrait was a particular feature of their decoration. Most of the masterpieces of Insular illumination are Gospel Books, and very many Byzantine and Carolingian examples. But most Gospel Books were never illuminated at all, or only with decorated initials and other touches. They often contained, in addition to the text of the Gospels themselves, supporting texts including Canon Tables, summaries, glossaries, and other explanatory material.

Western Use


Folio 72 verso of the Codex Aureus of Lorsch. Christ in Majesty

In current Roman Catholic usage, the Book of the Gospels contains all four gospels and is used by the priest or deacon to read or chant the gospel of the day during the Mass. However, use of the Book of the Gospels is not mandatory, and the gospel readings are included in the standard Lectionary.

Many parishes choose to use the Book of the Gospels, particularly on Sundays because the Book of the Gospels may be carried in the entrance procession while the Lectionary may not. (GIRM, 120)[clarification needed] When carried in procession, the Book of the Gospels is held slightly elevated, though not over the head. It is particularly proper for the deacon to carry the Book of the Gospels in procession, as the reading of the gospel is his particular province. When there is no deacon, the Book may be carried by a lector.

Upon reaching the altar, the deacon or lector bows in veneration of the altar, then places the Book upon the altar, where it remains until the Alleluia. During the singing of the Alleluia, the deacon, or in his absence, the priest, removes the Book from the altar and processes with it to the ambo. If incense is used, the Book of the Gospels is censed by the deacon before the reading or chanting. An altar server or acolyte will swing the censer slowly during the reading or chanting. The Gospel remains at the ambo until the Mass concludes. If the Rite of Dismissal of catechumens is celebrated, the Book of the Gospels is carried in procession in front of the catechumens as they leave the church.

When the Deacon reaches the ambo it is placed there while the church still sings.

In many places it is customary to have a gospel procession to the place of reading. A procession may include several persons — the reader ("gospeler"), two candle bearers, a crucifer, a thurifer, and someone to hold the gospel book. Incense may be used to honor the gospel book. The presider blesses the deacon or other gospeler. The gospeler takes up the gospel book from the altar and follows the others to a lectern, ambo, pulpit, or into the midst of the congregation. If the gospel is read in the midst of the congregation (for example, in the middle aisle of the church), members of the congregation turn, as necessary, so that each of them is facing the Gospel Book. Afterward, the reader leads the way back and places the altar book either on the altar or on a side table. If the gospeler is to preach, someone else may return the book to the altar.

Most churches only use the gospel book during Lent, Advent, Christmas and Easter, generally not using the book during Ordinary time during which they use a smaller book on the lectionary.

Episcopalian Church in America

In the Episcopal Church in the United States of America the practice of using a Gospel Book was recovered with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which suggests that the lessons and gospel "be read from a book or books of appropriate size and dignity" (BCP, p. 406). Following this several publishers have produced gospel books for use in the Episcopal Church, and other books have been privately compiled. A deacon or server usually carries the gospel book in the entrance procession, holding the book as high as possible with arms fully extended, and places it on the altar until time for the gospel proclamation. Afterward, it may be returned to the altar or placed on a side table or a stand.

Eastern Use

Eastern Orthodox

Jewelled and enamelled Gospel book belonging to Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich (Trinity Monastery, Aleksandrov).

Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics the Gospel Book (Greek: Εὐαγγέλιον, Evangélion) is very important liturgically. It is considered to be an icon of Christ, and is venerated in the same manner as an icon.

Traditionally, the Orthodox will never cover the Gospel Book in leather—the skin of a dead animal—because the words of Christ are considered to be life-giving. Animal skins are also reminiscent of the Fall of Man, when God fashioned garments of skin for Adam and Eve after their disobedience (Genesis 3:21). The Apostle Paul speaks of Christ being the "New Adam" (I_Corinthians 15:22,47-49), and the Orthodox understand Christ as coming to clothe mankind in the original "garments of light" which Adam and Eve lost in Paradise. Traditionally, the Gospel is covered in gold, the earthly element which is best symbolizes the glory of Heaven. If gold is unavailable, the Gospel may be covered in cloth.

The Gospel Book rests on the center of the Holy Table (Altar), as the Cross of Christ was planted in the center of the earth. This placement of the Gospel Book also represents the activity of Christ at the Creation (the square Altar representing the created world). The Gospel rests upon the antimension, which remains on the Altar at all times, as Christ will remain with the Church until the end of the world (Matthew 28:20). Even when the antimension is unfolded to receive the chalice and diskos, the Gospel Book is not removed from the Holy Table, but is stood upright in front of the Tabernacle.

Reading the Gospel during the Divine Liturgy.

The Divine Liturgy begins with the priest lifting the Gospel Book high and making the sign of the cross with it over the Altar. The Gospel Book is carried in procession at specific times, accompanied by candles. The most frequent occurrence is during the Divine Liturgy when it is carried in the Little Entrance[1] which precedes the Epistle and Gospel readings. It is also carried in the Crucessions at Pascha and Theophany. After reading from the Gospel, the priest will bless the faithful with it. At Sunday Matins, after the Gospel reading, all come forward to venerate the Gospel Book and receive the blessing of the priest or bishop.

Whenever an Eastern Christian goes to Confession he or she will confess before a Gospel Book and the Cross. In traditional Orthodox countries, when a person takes a vow or oath, he usually does so before a Gospel Book and Cross.

Byzantine Evangelist portrait of Luke, 10th century.

Near the end of the Sacred Mystery of Holy Unction, the person or persons that were anointed will kneel and the Gospel Book is opened and placed on their heads, with the writing down. While the chief priest says a special Prayer of the Gospel.

When a Bishop is Consecrated, he kneels, touching his forehead to the Altar, and the Gospel Book is opened and placed with the text down over his neck, while the consecrating bishops place their hands on the Gospel and say the Prayer of Consecration.

When a Synod of bishops meets, a Gospel Book is often enthroned in a prominent place to show that Christ Himself presides over the meeting.

When a priest or bishop is buried, he is buried with a Gospel Book resting on his chest, as an indication of his vocation to preach the Gospel to all men. The funeral service for a priest and bishop will have several readings from the Gospels, to indicate the importance of the Gospel to his ministry.

The Gospel Book contains the readings that are used at Matins, the Divine Liturgy, Molebens, and other services. Among the Greeks the Gospel Book is laid out in order of the cycle of readings as they occur in the ecclesiastical year, with a section in the back providing the Gospel readings for Matins, Feasts and special occasions. In the Slavic usage, the Gospel Book contains the full text of the four Gospels in canonical order (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), with annotations in the margins to indicate the beginning and ending of each reading, and a table of readings in the back. Occasionally it will contain pre-arranged texts of the more complex composite readings, such as the Twelve Gospels read at Matins on Good Friday.

Armenian Use

In the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church, during the reading of the Gospel, the deacon holds a piece of fine fabric in his hands, and with that he holds the Gospel Book. It is considered improper to touch the Gospel Book with bare hands. No lectern is provided for the Gospel reading in the Armenian sanctuary.

Significant Gospel Books

Illuminated page from the 6th century Rossano Gospels, one of the oldest extant Gospel Books.

See also the categories at bottom.

  • Ada Gospels
  • Rossano Gospels
  • Rabula Gospels
  • Mulling Gospels
  • Book of Durrow
  • Echternach Gospels
  • St. Augustine Gospels
  • Stonyhurst Gospel
  • Durham Gospels
  • Lindisfarne Gospels
  • Lichfield Gospels (also known as the St. Chad Gospels)
  • Leningrad Gospels
  • Book of Kells
  • Barberini Gospels
  • Vienna Coronation Gospels
  • Aachen Coronation Gospels
  • Ebbo Gospels
  • Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram
  • Lorsch Gospels
  • Codex Aureus of Echternach
  • Gospels of Henry the Lion
  • Tetraevangelia of Ivan Alexander
  • Peresopnytsia Gospels


  1. In the Greek usage, the processional cross and fans are used in the Little Entrance as well. With the Russians, the fans are usually only used when a Bishop is celebrating.

External links

cs:Evangeliář lb:Evangeliar no:Evangeliebok pt:Evangeliário ru:Евангелистарий sk:Evanjeliár sv:Evangeliebok