The Codex Amiatinus, is the earliest surviving complete manuscript of the Latin Vulgate version of the Christian Bible. The term Vulgate bible is used to refer to a translation which was largely the work of Jerome, who in 382 had been commissioned by Pope Damasus I to revise the Vetus Latina ("Old Latin") Gospels then in use by the Roman Church. Jerome, on his own initiative, extended this work of revision and translation to include most of the Books of the Bible. The Codex Amiatinus was produced around 700 C.E. here at the Benedictine monastery of St. Peter's as part of the Wearmouth-Jarrow monastery in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.

The Monastery of St. Peter's

To put all of the above into perspective - a vastly expensive, partly illuminated manuscript was created in a new huge scriptorium staffed by a relatively large number of monks. However, it wasn't just one edition but three such bibles that were produced.

It is difficult to estimate or even to genuinely sum up in your mind's eye just how expensive and how much had to go into creating these bibles. Even to posses one book at that time meant you were a wealthy person. Without doubt wealth and power had to be behind their production.

The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria was rich and powerful, covering a huge area of the United Kingdom we know today (as can be seen in the picture right) especially as so much of the kingdom was related to sea and waterways.

What is interesting when considering why such vast expense was entered into by the Northumbria royal family is that St. Peter's was, to all intents and purposes, right in the middle of that powerful kingdom, in many ways the heart of it. Could this have been part of the reason why this location was selected for a monastery in the first place? Could it also be why a second monastery was created at Jarrow, to increase the importance of this place even further? We may never know, as no written records, carvings, manuscripts or anything else providing more information have come to light. But history is a changing landscape and more may be found out one day.

 

The Codex Amiatinus and Two Other Editions

One of the three giant single-volume edition Bibles then made at Wearmouth-Jarrow created was taken to Italy as a gift for the Pope in 716 (the photograph below gives an impression of the bulk of the edition). It is this edition which still survives, the other two having been lost, burned or possibly hidden somewhere (local mythology believes 'treasure' possibly including books from St. Peter's was hidden from the Viking hordes in caves beneath the monastery). It is the earliest complete one-volume Latin Bible to survive and the oldest bible where all the biblical books present in what would be their Vulgate texts. It is named after the location in which it was discovered in modern times, Mount Amiata in Tuscany, at the Abbazia di San Salvatore where it had been falsified to appear as if it was created there. It is now normally kept at Florence, Italy in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

 

It is commonly considered to provide the most reliable surviving representation of Jerome's (March 347 AD – 30 September 420 AD) Vulgate text for the books of the New Testament, and most of the Old Testament. As was standard in all Vulgate bibles until the 9th century, the Book of Baruch is absent as is the Letter of Jeremiah, the text of the Book of Lamentations following on from the end of Jeremiah without a break. Ezra is presented as a single book, the texts of the later canonical books of Ezra and Nehemiah being continuous. Similarly the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles are each presented as a single book.

 

The Codex Amiatinus in England Once More

It was announced in 2017 that the Codex Amiatinus would be loaned to the British Library during 2018 for an exhibition of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, and would thus be returning to England for the first time in 1,302 years - you can read a blog at the British Library about this exhibition by clicking on this link.