Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Show in Florence on the Oldest Codex of the Vulgate

From June 29 until October 3, the Laurentian Library in Florence will have a special show on one of its most important manuscripts, the Codex Amiatinus, the oldest complete text of St Jerome’s Bibilical translation, which we now call the Vulgate. (This is the text of the Biblical readings still used in the EF Missal and Breviary.) The manuscript was executed at the English monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in Northumbria, England in the early 8th century, at the behest of the Abbot, Ceolfrid, whose most famous subject was St Bede the Venerable; it is reasonable to imagine that Bede, one of the most learned men of his age, would have been directly involved in the production of the manuscript. It was originally given as a gift to the Basilica of St Peter in Rome, but later donated to the Abbey of the Holy Savior on Mount Amiata in Tuscany, whence its nickname ‘Amiatinus.’ When Pietro Leopoldo, Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1765 to 1790, decreed the suppression of innumerable religious houses and orders within the Grand Duchy, and the concomitant theft of their property, the great library founded by the Medici family, and housed in the Laurentian, was enriched with a many such manuscripts. (Pietro Leopoldo was not a Medici himself, but one of the Hapsburg-Lorraine family that inherited the Grand Duchy from the last Medici duchess.)

Codices of such an age are too precious to be put on display, but a facsimile will be displayed along with a digital copy, of which viewers can turn the pages themselves. (I have seen a similar facsimile of the Codex Vaticanus, one of the oldest Greek Bibles in the world, and was assured by a very knowledgeable scholar that it a remarkably accurate reproduction.) The show will also include the originals of 7 very early printed Bibles of particular rarity.

One of the illustrated pages of the Codex Amiatinus,  showing Christ in majesty, surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists.
The Amiatinus is an immense book, over 19 inches tall by over 13 wide, 7 inches thick and weighing 75 pounds, containing 1040 sheets of  the durable calf-skin parchment known as vellum. (Image from wikipedia by Remi Mathis.)

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