Codex Amiatinus: An Northumbrian Treasure

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Codex Amiatinus: Original 7th Century Vulgate: New Latin Transcription by Metopedia Research
Codex Amiatinus: Original 7th Century Vulgate: New Latin Transcription by Metopedia Research

Production and Journey to Italy

In the early eighth century, in the northeast of England, at the Benedictine Monkwearmouth–Jarrow Abbey in the Kingdom of Northumbria, now South Tyneside, a remarkable feat of manuscript production took place. A team of scribes meticulously copied the Latin Vulgate version of the Christian Bible, resulting in the creation of three giant single-volume Bibles.

Among these, the Codex Amiatinus, also known as the Jarrow Codex, is considered the best-preserved manuscript of the Latin Vulgate version. Its production around 700 AD makes it the earliest complete one-volume Latin Bible to survive, with only the León palimpsest being older.

In 716, the Codex Amiatinus was taken to Italy as a gift for Pope Gregory II. Its journey was undoubtedly a perilous one, but the manuscript survived and found a new home in Tuscany.

Designation and Contents

Named after the location in which it was found in modern times, Monte Amiata in Tuscany, at the Abbazia di San Salvatore, the Codex Amiatinus is now kept at Florence in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (Amiatino 1).

Designated by siglum A, the Codex Amiatinus is commonly considered to provide the most reliable surviving representation of Jerome’s Vulgate text for the books of the New Testament, and most of the Old Testament. It is the oldest Bible where all the biblical canon presents what would be their Vulgate texts.

As was standard in all Vulgate Bibles until the ninth century, the Book of Baruch is absent, as is the Letter of Jeremiah. The text of the Book of Lamentations follows on from the end of Jeremiah without a break. Ezra–Nehemiah is presented as a single book, with the texts of the canonical Book of Ezra and Book of Nehemiah being continuous. Similarly, the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are each presented as a single book.

The Codex Amiatinus Returns to England

After more than 1,300 years, in 2018, the Codex Amiatinus made a triumphant return to England. It was loaned to the British Library in London for an exhibition of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, allowing visitors to admire the beauty of this incredible manuscript firsthand.

A Weighty Symbol of Biblical History

Folio 5r from the Codex Amiatinus (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Amiatinus 1)

Folio 5r from the Codex Amiatinus (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Amiatinus 1)

The Codex Amiatinus is an impressive tome, weighing over 75 pounds and measuring 19+1⁄4 inches high, 13+3⁄8 inches in breadth, and 7 inches thick. Its symbol, written as am or A according to Wordsworth, is a significant artifact in the history of biblical literature.

The Book of Psalms: A Unique Translation by Jerome

In this monumental manuscript, the Book of Psalms is provided in Jerome’s third version, translated from Hebrew, which was unusual compared to the pre-Jerome Roman Psalter or Jerome’s second Gallican version. However, the Amiatinus psalms text is considered an inferior witness of Jerome’s Versio juxta Hebraicum. The text is believed to be sourced from an Irish psalter, but it differs in many places from the best Irish manuscripts.

The Writing Style: Uncial Characters and Stichometric Arrangement

As an illuminated manuscript, the Codex Amiatinus features some decoration, including two full-page miniatures. However, these show little sign of the usual insular style of Northumbrian art and are clearly copied from Late Antique originals. The manuscript contains 1,040 leaves of strong, smooth vellum, arranged in quires of four sheets and written in uncial characters. The text is divided into sections, which correspond to the Ammonian Sections in the Gospels.

The Codex Grandior and St. Jerome: Possible Influences on the Script

Although there are no marks of punctuation, the skilled reader was guided into the sense by stichometric, or verse-like, arrangement into cola and commata. The script is believed to have been modeled upon the Codex Grandior of Cassiodorus, but it may go back, perhaps, even to St. Jerome.

Overall, the Codex Amiatinus is a significant and awe-inspiring piece of biblical history, with its unique translation, intricate decoration, and unparalleled writing style.

The Oldest Complete Text of the Vulgate

Maiestas Domini page from Codex Amiatinus (fol. 796v), Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana

Maiestas Domini page from Codex Amiatinus (fol. 796v), Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana

Commissioned by Abbot Ceolfrith in 692, the Codex Amiatinus was one of three copies of the Bible produced. Bede, a prominent monk and historian, is believed to have been involved in its compilation.

An Unfortunate Demise

Ceolfrith intended to present the Codex Amiatinus to Pope Gregory II, but tragically, he died during his journey to Rome in 716. The book eventually found its way to Abbazia di San Salvatore, Monte Amiata, where it remained for centuries.

An Age-Old Debate

Despite initial claims that the Codex Amiatinus was produced in the 540s by Servandus, a follower of St. Benedict, later scholars noted similarities to 9th-century texts. In 1888, Giovanni Battista de Rossi established the Codex’s connection to the Bibles mentioned by Bede, thus establishing its true age.

A Significant Text in the Counter-Reformation

As the primary source of the Vulgate, the Codex Amiatinus was of great importance to the Catholics during the Counter-Reformation. Protestant translations derived from the original language of the Scriptures, but the Latin text of the Amiatinus was earlier than any known Hebrew manuscript, making it a powerful tool in the battle for textual precedence.

A Critical Edition of the Vulgate

Due to the many corruptions in all published editions of the Vulgate, in 1878, John Wordsworth proposed a new critical edition of the Vulgate New Testament. This was eventually published as Nouum Testamentum Domini nostri Iesu Christi Latine, secundum editionem sancti Hieronymi, using the Codex Amiatinus as a primary source. In 1907, Pope Pius X commissioned the Benedictine monks in Rome to prepare a critical edition of Jerome’s Vulgate, entitled Biblia Sacra iuxta latinam vulgatam versionem, which also followed the same critical principles and used the Codex Amiatinus as its primary source.

 

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Sources

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, February 10). Codex Amiatinus. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Amiatinus

  • Codex Amiatinus. (2015). The Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/resource/gdcwdl.wdl_20150/?st=gallery

  • British Library. (2023). Www.bl.uk. https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/codex-amiatinus

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