Codex Amiatinus

The Codex Amiatinus is designated by siglum A. It is the earliest surviving manuscript of the nearly complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate version, and is considered to be the most accurate copy of St. Jerome’s text. It is missing the Book of Baruch. It was produced in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria as a gift for the Pope, and dates to the start of the 8th century. The Codex is also a fine specimen of medieval calligraphy, and is now kept at Florence in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

Codex Amiatinus contains the whole Bible according to the Vulgate version, together with the usual prefaces, etc, to each book, and a quaternion of a very valuable introductory matter at the commencement. It numbers 1029 leaves of vellum, stout but smooth and white, written in two columns in a page, and forty-three or forty-four lines to a column. The text is in a regular and beautiful uncial hand, so carefully and clearly written that it has needed but a few corrections; there is no punctuation as the text is divided into lines of varying length, technically called cola and commata, or less correctly stichi, which represents an ancient system of punctuation perfectly intelligible to the trained eyes. (see H.J. White’s Codex Amiatinus of the Latin Vulgate and Its Birthplace)

The symbol for it is written am or A (Wordsworth). It is preserved in an immense tome, measuring 19 1/4 inches in height, 13 3/8 inches in breadth, and 7 inches in thickness, and weighs over 75 pounds — so impressive, as Hort says, as to fill the beholder with a feeling akin to awe. Some consider it, with White, as perhaps “the finest book in the world”; still there are several manuscripts which are as beautifully written and have besides, like the Book of Kells or Lindisfarne Gospels, those exquisite ornaments of which Amiatinus is devoid. It qualifies as an illuminated manuscript as it has some decoration including two full-page miniatures, but these show little sign of the usual insular style of Northumbrian art and are clearly copied from Late Antique originals. It contains 1040 leaves of strong, smooth vellum, fresh-looking today despite their great antiquity, arranged in quires of four sheets, or quaternions. It is written in uncial characters, large, clear, regular, and beautiful, two columns to a page, and 43 or 44 lines to a column. A little space is often left between words, but the writing is in general continuous. The text is divided into sections, which in the Gospels correspond closely to the Ammonian Sections. There are no marks of punctuation, but the skilled reader was guided into the sense by stichometric, or verse-like, arrangement into coda and commata, which correspond roughly to the principal and dependent clauses of a sentence. From this manner of writing the scribe is believed to have been modeled upon the Codex Grandior of Cassiodorus, but it may go back, perhaps, even to St. Jerome.

Originally three copies of the bible were commissioned by Ceolfrid in 692. This date has been established as the double monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow secured a grant of additional land to raise the 2000 head of cattle needed to produce the vellum. Bede was most likely involved in the compilation. Ceolfrid accompanied one copy intended as a gift to Pope Gregory II, but he died on route to Rome. The book later appears in the 9th century in St Saviour’s Abbey, Monte Amiata (hence the description “Amiatinus”), where it remained until 1786 when it passed to the Laurentian Library. The dedication page had been altered and the librarian Angelo Maria Bandini suggested that the author was Servandus, a follower of St. Benedict, and was produced at Monte Cassino around the 540s. This claim was accepted for the next hundred years, establishing it as the oldest copy of the Vulgate, but scholars in Germany noted the similarity to 9th c. texts. In 1888 Giovanni Battista de Rossi established that the Codex was related to the Bibles mentioned by Bede. This also established that Amiatinus was related to the Greenleaf Bible fragment in the British Library. Although de Rossi’s attribution removed 150 years from the age of the Codex, it remained the oldest version of the Vulgate. A 9th c. copy of the Codex Amiatinus is the personal Bible of the Pope.

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Eusebius Hieronymus (St. Jerome)
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