Codex Amiatinus

The Jarrow/Wearmouth monastery was the home of Abbot Ceolfrith and the birthplace of the Codex Amiatinus. The Jarrow/Wearmouth Pandect Bible, to give it its true title exists today in Florence as one of three originals produced by Ceolfrith.

The one surviving Pandect Bible produced in the monastic scriptoria is unique, not only for its superb uncial script, but also for the elaborate and informative 7th. century illustrations which illuminate and bring the Pandect to life.


This Fabulous Anglo-Saxon Book  which still exists today was produced by the monks of Jarrow and Wearmouth under the direction of Ceolfrith, Abbot of the monastery. It is the oldest complete Latin bible in existence and took several years to produce. Ceolfrith commissioned three copies to be made, each having over 1,000 pages of Vellum, beautifully written in Latin calligraphy

Ceolfrith's plan was to have copies at Jarrow and Wearmouth, and the third copy he would take personally to Rome as a present for the Pope (Gregory the second). It was copied by the scribes at Jarrow and Wearmouth from the CODEX GRANDIOR, the Italian 6th. century bible, now lost. This was originally written by the Italian ,St. Jerome, who translated it from Hebrew into Latin.  He was a biblical scholar who also founded a monastery at Bethlehem.

When Benedict Biscop and Ceolfrith visited Rome in 678, they acquired the Codex Grandior for the library of the new monastery at Wearmouth. A few years years later the Codex Amiatinus was labouriously copied from this by seven scribes in the Scriptoriums at Jarrow and Wearmouth and Ceolfrith was there to oversee its production.

This plate from the Codex Amiatinus appears at the beginning of the New Testament.  It shows Christ seated in majesty with the four evangelists and their symbols in each corner.

How was the Codex Amiatinus produced ?

The work could only have been done in a well equipped monastery and by highly skilled scribes.  It has been proved that seven scribes did the work and the writing was done in Latin calligraphy in Uncial characters, large, clear and beautiful.
Ceolfrith started the project in 692.  This date has been established as the twin monastery secured a grant of additional land to raise the 2,000 head of cattle needed to produce the Vellum.  Each copy contained 1029 leaves made from calfskin and weighed over 75 lbs. Each bifolium requiring one entire calfskin.

It was an ambitious project, as other monasteries were reproducing just the four Gospels or the Book of Psalms  To make a one volume entire bible in the 8th. century was extremely rare.

Of the three copies of the Codex which Ceolfrith caused to be produced only one remains.  It is now in the Laurentian Library in Florence.  The other two copies which remained at Jarrow and Wearmouth have been lost,  probably destroyed by the Viking invasions

The Pentateuch Illustration is relating to the first 5 books of the Old Testament , regarded as a unity. This plate indicates, as does the previous illustration, the tradition of using circles as an image of divine perfection. The circles here are displayed in a cross formation. Each book and comment is placed in a system of circles and each smaller circle is then placed in an all-encompassing larger circle, using here the five mosaic books in the form of a crucifixion.

Codex Amiatinus ~ Books of the Bible as arranged by St. Augustine.
~~~ Histories, Prophets, Gospels, Letters of Apostles, Acts, Apocalypse.

This plate from the Codex Amiatinus depicts Ezra, the ancient scribe and priest re - writing the "Books of the Law". It is believed that this picture was copied from the Codex Grandior  ( Cassiodorus ).

Ceolfrith sets off for Rome, never to return.  Taking with him the third copy of the Codex, he left our shores for Rome on what was to be his last pilgrimage. Like Elijah it could be said of him " The journey is too great for thee".
It was the year 716 and Ceolfrith was 74 yrs. old.  The monks of Jarrow and Wearmouth were shocked and saddened when he told them to appoint a new abbot as he intended to live out his life in Italy after presenting the Codex to the Pope.  Sadly he didn't reach Italian soil but died on route at Langres monastery in Burgundy.  He reached the monastery on the morning of September 25th. 716 and departed to the Lord at four in the afternoon.  Some of his followers continued their journey with the Codex and presented it to the Pope as Ceolfrith had wished.  Others returned to England with the sad news of his passing.

The bible was in the possession of the monastery at Monte Amiata  near Siena from the 9th. century until 1792, when it was taken to its present location in Florence after the monastery was closed. How it came to be there in the first place remains a mystery.  Its origins were not discovered until the 19th. century, when it was revealed that the dedication page  ( pictured below )  had been altered and it was identified as Ceolfrith's gift to Pope Gregory.

The forged amendments are clearly apparent,  especially the fifth line which reads " Peter of the Lombards"  after "Ceolfrith of the English"  had been erased.  The true dedication was verified using ultra-violet light.

Today the original manuscript has been unbound by experts in Florence in order to produce a limited edition number of smaller replica copies, one of which is now on display in the City of Sunderland  ( City Library and Arts Centre ) to celebrate the adoption of Benedict Biscop as Patron Saint of the City of Sunderland. (replica copy below).

The priceless bible of Ceolfrith still exists today in the Laurentian Library in Florence, where it is known as the Great Bible of Monte Amiata from the name of the monastery where it was housed for nearly a thousand years.


Today there remains only one of Abbott Ceolfrith's Pandect Bibles of the three originally produced at the Jarrow/ Wearmouth scriptorium.
This survives under the misnomer of "Codex Amiatinus", the name it has acquired due to a set of circumstances. It is a name which would have been completely alien to Ceolfrith and is unlikely to be a one he would have approved of, or which he would have wanted the Pandent to be known by. The circumstances have dictated the name given to the Pandent today which will no doubt continue to be known as the Codex Amiatinus.

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