Things to do when you’ve missed your train at King’s Cross (part 2)

It’s even better than platform 9 3/4

Platform 9 3/4

One of the things not to watch at King’s Cross station is tourists talking selfies as they crash luggage trolleys into a brick wall. On top of the brick wall is the sign ‘Platform 9 3/4’, and you can also find a convenient shop nearby of Potter memorabilia.

Great though Harry Potter is, you can find an even better story hidden around the corner from King’s Cross Station.

The British Library stores every book ever printed. Its greatest treasure, which may even be the UK’s greatest treasure, is on exhibition there. This is something more valuable than the crown jewels and more influential than than The Wealth of Nations or the Magna Carta (also on display nearby) or Newton’s Principia Mathematica.

The Codex Siniaticus, the book from Sinai, is the ‘oldest Bible in the world’, and the earliest complete New Testament, dating from 320 AD.

St Catherine's Monastery @flickr

How it was found is unbelievable.

The first 43 pages of it were discovered in a monastic fire-basket in 1844 by German scholar and explorer Lobegott Friedrich Constantin von Tischendorf. He was visiting St Catherine’s monestary on the traditional site of Mt Sinai.

I perceived in the middle of the great hall a large and wide basket, full of old parchments; and the librarian informed me that two heaps of papers like this, mouldered by reason of age, had been already committed to the flames. What was my surprise to find among this heap of documents a considerable number of sheets of a copy of the Old Testament in Greek, which seemed to me to be one of the most ancient I had ever seen.

St Catherine's Monastery
Prayer life: good. Central heating fuel, some improvement needed.

His excitement prevented the monks from handing over the rest, but also, fortunately, from burning any more pages.

In 1859, he persuaded the monks to present the whole MS to Tsar Alexander II of Russia.  It contained about half the Old Testament and all the New Testament. After the Russian Revolution, and long after Tischendorf’s death, the revolutionary government didn’t want it, and the British bought it.



Things to do when you’ve missed your train at Kings Cross (part 1)

The British Library1.No, don’t go to platform 9 3/4 and watch the tourists photographing each other. Come out of the station, skip past St Pancras, and walk into the British Library.

2.Breathe deeply. Relax. It may look like a Young Offenders’ Institution, but this is an holy place.

3. Climb the broad stairs to the dimly-lit room where they keep their treasures.

4. Try not to get too excited.

5. Find the folio in which Handel hand-wrote the Hallelujah Chorus. It is open at the last page, the final, endless A-le-lu-ia, and you can see Handel’s spidery lines, his scribblings-out, his squashed semibreves, his desperate haste. This is not the forensically typeset version of the printed score. It is Handel’s own untidy and spontaneous penmanship.

(This is a photo of a facsimile, not the original, just in case you thought I’d done a bad thing.)Handel - in his own hand!

6. Reflect. Here’s what the all-knowing Internet says about Messiah:

In 1741, Handel composed Messiah and what we know now as the Hallelujah Chorus. While designing and composing Messiah, Handel was in debt and deeply depressed; however, the masterpiece was completed in a mere 24 days.

Despite his mental and financial state, the Hallelujah Chorus’s birth story is a glorious one. After Handel’s assistant called for him for a few moments, the assistant went to Handel’s work area because he received no response from Handel. Upon entering the room, the assistant saw tears emerge from Handel’s eyes. When the assistant asked why Handel was crying, Handel proclaimed, “I have seen the face of God.” 1

In front of Handel would have been the manuscript that’s now in front of you.

Here’s the internet again“Considering the immensity of the work and the short time involved, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of music composition.”

7. Reflect some more. Life wasn’t going well. But a gifted person, in the place God meant him to be, doing the thing God gifted him to do, met God, created something beautiful, and 275 years later, the world is still reverberating.