The Codex Amiatinus
A complete reproduction of this acclaimed Saxon Bible.
The oldest surviving single-volume Latin Bible in the world, on display for the first time in Sunderland.
To celebrate the adoption of Benedict Biscop as Patron Saint of Sunderland, a replica of the Codex Amiatinus was brought to the city for the first time. Of the three Saxon Bibles produced at the twin monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in the 8th century, the original Codex Amiatinus, now in the Laurentian Library in Florence, is the only one that survives intact today. It is the oldest one-volume Latin Bible to survive in the world, and is important to Biblical scholars as well as being an artistic treasure.
Established by Benedict Biscop, the twin monastery became an internationally renowned centre for learning and creativity and produced remarkable scholars including the Venerable Bede.
The Abbot of Wearmouth-Jarrow, Benedict Biscop's friend and successor Ceolfirth, intended to carry the Codex Amiatinus to Rome in AD716, as a gift to Pope Gregory II. Ceolfirth left Wearmouth with an entourage of 80 followers, intending to spend his last days in Rome, but died in France on his way. Some of his followers took the Codex Amiatinus on to Rome and presented it to the Pope to fulfil Ceolfriths wishes. The later history of the book is unknown until it somehow ended up at the monastery of San Salvatore at Monte Amiata in Italy where it was highly prized and thought to be a 6th century Italian work. When the monastery was closed in the 18th century it was taken to the Laurentian Library in Florence, where it was given the name Amiatinus after the monastery it had come from. Its Northumbrian origin was not rediscovered until the 19th century.
Written by several scribes, the Codex Amiatinus is exceptionally large and heavy. It has over 2060 vellum pages, made from 515 animal hides. As it was originally one of three huge Bibles, the whole project required the hides of more than 1500 animals, which demonstrates the immense resources of Wearmouth-Jarrow in Bede's day. It was an ambitious project - other monasteries were reproducing just the four Gospels or the Book of Psalms; to make a one-volume Bible in the 8th century was extremely rare.
The original manuscript has been unbound by experts in Florence in order to produce a limited number of smaller facsimiles, one of which can now be seen on display in Sunderland.
Benedict Biscop was born in Northumberland in AD 628 and was named Biscop Baducing. He adopted the name Benedict when he entered religious life after travelling to Rome to learn about Roman Christianity. Biscop was granted 70 hides of land at the mouth of the River Wear by King Ecgfrith and in AD 674 founded the monastery of St Peter.
Inspired by his visits to Rome, Biscop introduced a revolutionary style of Roman architecture for the monastery, bringing masons from France to create the first stone church in Northumbria. He also brought glaziers to make windows and St Peter's became the birthplace of stained glass making in Britain. Glass making has been an important part of Sunderland's history for the past 1300 years.
The Venerable Bede, one of the most famous Christian scholars, was born locally and entered the monastery. It is through his work that Benedict Biscop's achievements and significance to Sunderland's history are known.
The monastery was founded at Wearmouth on a large estate of land granted by the King, in 674. Later, Benedict Biscop was granted further land at Jarrow and established a twin house, St Paul's, in AD 681. Ceolfrith was appointed Abbot of Jarrow, and later succeeded Benedict Biscop as abbot of the twin monastery. Bede writes that the two houses functioned as 'one monastery in two places', calling it 'the monastery of St Peter and St Paul at Wearmouth and Jarrow.
Biscop died on 12 January AD690 and was buried close to the altar in St Peter's church. Before he died he made arrangements for the future of the twin monasteries, and gave instructions for the election of abbots and the preservation of his library, one of the best in Europe at the time.
Biscop is remembered for his dedication to his faith and commitment to establishing Roman Christianity in Britain. Above all, he is remembered for the monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow and for making them great centres for learning, study and international cultural exchange. This tradition continues at Wearmouth today with the University of Sunderland's award winning campus and the National Glass Centre, which is dedicated to the exploration, creation and promotion of glass.
For further information about the Codex Amiatinus and details of viewing please contact the City Library and Arts Centre.