Conceived and created here in the monastery of St. Peter’s, Monkwearmouth the Codex Amiatinus is the earliest surviving complete manuscript of the Latin Vulgate version of the Christian Bible. Monks and caligraphers produced it here around 700 A.D. It had been commissioned by Abbot Ceolfrid in 692 but took considerable time, many years and unbelievable cost to produce. It was clearly a statement – St. Peter’s Monkwearmouth and the Kingdom of Northumbria were here and a force to be reckoned with.
Despite that enormous cost, being produced entirely by hand in the scriptorium, the Codex was not intended to be kept in the monastery. The copy pictured above was intended to be taken to Rome in Italy by Ceolfrid as a gift for Pope Gregory II in 716 but he died en route on 29th September 716 at Langres, Burgundy. What happened next to the Codex Amiatinus is shrouded in mystery as it was not taken on to Rome, but disappeared from records.
We have since learned that it had remained in the San Salvatore Monastery until 1786 when it re-appeared as it was passed to the Laurentian Library in Florence. It’s dedication page had been falsified and the principal librarian changed to the Laurentian, Angelo Maria Bandini suggested that the author was Servandus, a follower of St. Benedict, and that it had been produced at Monte Cassino around the 540s. Why it had not been left intact and forwarded on to the Pope as intended is lost to us as if this had been discovered by the Pope or their emissaries in the 8th century it could well be dealt with in a brutal and swift way.
The false claim above was accepted for around a century until scholars in Germany raised questions of authenticity when they noted the similarity to 9th-century texts. In 1888, Giovanni Battista de Rossi established that the Codex script was related to the Bibles mentioned by Bede.
Incredibly the Codex Amiatinus was not the only bible produced here but one of three giant single-volume Bibles then made here at the Monkwearmouth–Jarrow monastery. The other two bibles are lost from the records in time somewhere, probably in Europe, but may well one day re-appear – we certainly hope so. The Codex is the earliest complete one-volume Latin Bible to survive, only the León palimpsest being older; and the oldest bible where all the Books of the Bible present what would be their Vulgate texts.
The Codex is named after the location in which it was found in modern times, Mount Amiata in Tuscany, at the Abbazia di San Salvatore. It is now kept at Florence in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.
Designated by siglum A, it 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. 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.