The Codex Amiatinus: An Ambassador for the English Nation
With pages measuring 27.5 by 20.5 inches and weighing in at 75 pounds, it is safe to say that this bad boy is huge. Not only massive in size, the Codex Amiatinus is also rich in history: it is a highly celebrated manuscript of the Latin Vulgate Bible, and is the oldest surviving copy of St. Jerome’s text, making the Codex the oldest complete bible to date.
Written in the seventh century, the Codex was produced in the monastic scriptorium at Wearmouth-Jarrow by six scribes under the guidance of Abbot Ceolfrith. Ceolfrith’s predecessor, noble Benedict Biscop, established the double monastery and library in his native Northumbria after visiting Rome. It was at this monastery that the Venerable Bede, the prolific scholar and writer established himself; it is thought that Bede played a large role in the design and production of the Codex as well. A total of three copies of the Codex Amiatinus were produced in Latin calligraphy, however two of the copies are lost. Interestingly, the copy that travelled is the copy that survived. In AD 716 Abbot Ceolfrith and followers journeyed to Rome with a copy of the text, where it was to be given to Pope Gregory II. Unfortunately, the Abbot died en route, and it was not known to have reached its intended. Many years later, it was found in the monastery of San Salvatore in Italy, subsequently, it was sent to the Laurential Library in Florence where it has remained.
The Codex Amiatinus contains 1, 029 folios of vellum, arranged in quaternions (quires of four sheets). It is written in uncial characters in two columns on each page. There are roughly 43 to 44 lines per column. There is narrow spacing between words, with little punctuation. The text is divided into sections, with the initial line of each section written in different colored ink. There is very little ornamentation in the book, and few illuminated pages.
What has always fascinated me with manuscripts is the concept of someone meticulously copying text; as well as images, so another book can come to be. The process allows me to further appreciate printers. When I think of the Codex Amiantinus, I think that even though there were six scribes, each scribe had roughly 300 pages to copy for one book, and there were a total of three books made. To produce these texts, it takes a massive amount of time, effort, and patience, and the likelihood of your creation standing the test of time is not a sure thing. Only one is left, with bits of the other two copies found in odd places and used in other books. What especially drew me to this manuscript in particular, is the size of the codex and how beautifully it was made. Among the thousands of lines of consistent, clear, conscience, scrolling uncial text, I have discovered only two carefully illuminated pages from the text, as well as a lightly embellished dedication page.
The first illuminated page is the frontispiece of the Bible. It depicts Ezra, an ancient scribe and writer, bent over a codex. He is busily writing, even though his eyes don’t appear to be on the page he is writing on. He has no irises, only tiny pupils in a sea of white: he looks terrified. Behind him is an open cupboard with nine red books on each shelf. I believe that this alludes to the nine volumed Bible written by Cassiodorus, which was obtained by Ceolfrith and Biscop at the time that the Codex Amiatinus was created.
The other image is of a Maiestas Domini (Christ in Majesty). Christ is flanked by two angels in a series of concentric circles. It looks like there are open books with spines facing the viewer within the hedges of the circles. The circles are enclosed by a rectangle, with the four Evangelists and their respective symbols claiming the space created by the corner of the rectangle and the outer edge of the circle. This image precedes the beginning of the New Testament.
The dedication page features the text in the center of the page with a blue and yellow arch curving over the words. What is really neat about this particular page is that the identity of the book was reestablished because of the dedication. The codex had the inscription “Petrus Langobardorum” and was thought to have been an Italian work because it was donated to the Laurential Library from an Italian monastery. In 1886, G. B. di Rossi recognized that several names had been altered, and were written over words that had been removed. He discovered that the original donors name was “Ceolfridus Anglorum”, therefore establishing that the Codex was not Italian, but English. In this way the Codex is incredibly important to the English people, because the earliest known complete bible written in Latin was produced in that region. Thus allowing the English to have bragging rights.
- The text is made with 1,030 folios of vellum, with an estimated 515 calf hides required to provide the material.
- The Codex is not exactly complete; it is missing the book of Baruch.