Over 1300 years ago the monks at Wearmouth-Jarrow embarked on an ambitious project to produce three copies of the Bible, for Wearmouth, Jarrow and the Pope in Rome.
Today only one copy remains, known as the Codex Amiatinus. The Codex is the earliest, most accurate copy of a complete Latin Bible. Even in its time it was a rare production but now it is unique and one of the most important medieval manuscripts in the world.
The Friends of the World of Bede commissioned a facsimile copy of the Codex to allow for a full-sized copy to return to Jarrow to be displayed amongst the artefacts of the original monastic site and to be made available for research by those interested in the religious, artistic and historical importance of the text.
The facsimile arrived in Jarrow in July 2016 and was installed in the Bede Museum by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear following a blessing at St Paul’s Church, in the 1300th anniversary year of its departure.
The story of the Codex Amiatinus
The three bibles were commissioned by Benedict Biscop’s successor – Abbot Ceolfrith. A copy would be for use in each of the two monastery sites, St Peter’s Wearmouth and St Paul’s Jarrow, and in 716, on completion of the third copy, Ceolfrith and a group of monks set out on a journey to deliver the third copy to the Pope.
Ceolfrith died on route but there is reliable evidence which suggests that the monks continued their journey and presented the book to the Pope as intended.
By the 9th century, the Codex was to be found at the monastery of San Salvatore, Monte Amiata, where it remained until the monastery’s closure in 1785. The Codex Amiatinus, as it is now named, was then given to the Laurentian Library.
Read more in the British Library Medieval Manuscripts blog:
In AD 2000 a perfect facsimile of the Codex was made for Monte Amiata, by Manuela Vestri and her firm, La Meta, and in the Summer of 2014 Bede’s World museum received that facsimile on loan to display for three months.
After a long period of discussion permission was obtained for a second facsimile to be produced which was purchased by the Friends of the World of Bede for study and display in the place in which it was created 1300 years ago.
- The Codex has been called a ‘treasure house’ of early Christian thought.
- It is intimately linked to the works of Bede, who may have had some hand in its production.
- It has been in the Laurentian library in Florence since the 18th century and difficult for the public to see.
- The Codex Amiatinus was brought to the UK for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: art, word, war exhibition in The British Library (October 2018 – February 2019), the first time the original has returned to the UK since its creation. The British Library has very kindly donated the cabinet used for the display of the Codex to the Friends, for the display of the facsimile.
The Codex facsimile at Bede Museum, Jarrow Hall
Display in the museum opens up access to the Codex in many ways:
- Page-turnings and events allow the Codex, its calligraphy and artwork to be seen and better understood by Friends and visitors.
- Scholars who cannot access the original in Florence can request access to the facsimile.
- Students of many disciplines, including history, literature, art and calligraphy, theology, have the opportunity to see the facsimile and attend related events.
- There is a copy of the Codex in the region in which it was created, showing the importance of the region in the age of Bede.
- Children visiting the museum with schools or families can learn about the Codex and the rich Northumbrian heritage which brought it into being.
Bruce-Mitford, R. L. S. (1967) The art of the Codex Amiatinus. Jarrow Lecture. Jarrow: Jarrow Parish Council.
Burke, B. (2019) The Codex Amiatinus and its sister manuscripts. Jarrow: Friends of the World of Bede.
De Hamel, C. (2016) Meetings with remarkable manuscripts. UK: Allen Lane.
Nordhagen, P. J. (1977) The Codex Amiatinus and the Byzantine element in the Northumbrian Renaissance. Jarrow Lecture. Jarrow: Jarrow Parish Council.