THE next Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has backed calls for the Lindisfarne Gospels to be returned to the North-East - saying they should be part of the life of the region.

The Right Reverend Welby, whose exit as Bishop of Durham to become head of the Church of England and the 77 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion was confirmed on Friday, said moving the priceless treasures from the British Library, in London, to the North-East - where they were created 1,300 years ago - would be a “very good thing”.

Europe's oldest book, created on Lindisfarne, in Northumberland, in the Eighth Century in honour of St Cuthbert, will be loaned to Palace Green library, in Durham, from July to September next year, with up to 200,000 visitors expected.

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Supporting campaigners demands for their permanent return, Bishop Welby added his voice to that of the current Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams who, when quizzed on the issue during a visit to Durham four years ago, said returning the Gospels to what he called their "spiritual home" would be wonderful.

He said that they belonged with St Cuthbert, the saint to whom they are dedicated, who is buried in Durham Cathedral.

Asked whether he agreed with Dr Williams, Bishop Welby said: “Yes, personally, I think it would be a very good thing.

“That’s not in my gift, either now or in the future. But I think something that comes from here should be part of the life of the region.”

The British Library is concerned the Gospels should be maintained for future generations to enjoy but has agreed to loan them out for up to three months as often as every seven years.

Bishop Welby spoke to The Northern Echo on Saturday during his first public appearance in the North-East  since being chosen to succeed Dr Williams.

Previously, Dr Keith Bartlett, the programme director for next summer’s loan, said they were part of a national collection and the British Library was currently the best place for them.