Tag Archives: manuscripts

Codex Amiatinus – a very English book with an Italian name


St Paul's, Jarrow
Abbott Ceofrid (pronounced Chalfrith) must have been a remarkable man. At the beginning of the eighth century, he was in charge of the twin foundations of St Peter’s at Monkwearmouth (now Sunderland) and also St Paul’s, Jarrow (right), both on or very close to the coast on the far north-east of England. The church buildings have evidence of Anglo-Saxon work, and although both have been much altered, it is still possible to get something of the feeling of what it must have been like at the time of Ceolfrid and Bede; Bede lived at Jarrow.

cod amIn 692, Ceolfrid commissioned three great pandects (all the books of the bible in one volume) to be created, one for Monkwearmouth, one for Jarrow and one to take with him when he went to see Pope Gregory II in Rome; this last book became the Codex Amiatinus. The date is fairly certain because it was in that year that the twin foundations were given a grant of extra land, needed to raise the cattle required for these books. (Map of Jerusalem on the right from the Codex Amiatinus)

Each of the three books had 1029 leaves from calfskin, which was of exceptionally fine quality. The books were large, one calfskin would have had the edges trimmed and then folded in two to make four pages. It’s been estimated that 2,000 cattle were needed for the project, and it should be pointed out that these would be calves, not fully grown mature cattle because their skin is too thick and unwieldy. The books weighed over 5 stone each (75 lbs, 35 kg), and would have required two strong people to move them once bound.

page from Cod AmiatinusThe writing in the Codex Amiatinus is a particularly fine uncial script (opening of St Mark on the right), and for many years was thought to be produced by scribes in or from Rome because of its quality. It must have taken years to produce three great books; seven scribes have been identified and there is evidence that the Venerable Bede was involved in the project. It was only at the beginning of the last century, and then only because of its similarity to other manuscripts known to have been produced at Monkwearmouth/Jarrow, that scholars agreed that the books would have been written by English scribes in England. There is no punctuation, but sections start with a large initial, and it is written as per cola et commata, which means that it is set out as clauses in a sentence, and indented as such. It is remarkably easy to navigate despite there being few illustrations or big headings.

Ezra page, Cod AmiatinusThe text is an almost pure form of the Latin Vulgate translation of St Jerome (the language used at the time, nothing to do with it being ‘vulgar’), and is thought to be have based on a book called the Codex Grandior, an Italian 6th century book, and again a pandect, but now lost. Benedict Biscop, who has recently been adopted as the patron saint of Sunderland, was the founder of the monasteries, as well as being Ceolfrid’s predecessor. He and Ceolfrid visited Rome in 678 and brought back books, including the Codex Grandior, bought from the library of the Vivarium, a monastery set up by Cassiodorus, on the site of modern Santa Maria de Vetere near Squillace, in Italy. (Right: The Ezra page from the Codex Amiatinus)

Two of the pandects stayed in England at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth, but, when he was 74 years of age, on 16th June in 716, Ceolfrid set out for Rome with the third book. It must have been a tearful departure as the monks knew they would not see their dear abbot again. Sadly, Ceolfrid didn’t get to Rome but died at Langres, Burgundy, in France on September 24th the same year.

Codex_Amiatinus_(dedication_page)By the 9th century, the pandect was at the monastery of Monte Amiata, near Siena, which gave the book its current name. It remained there until 1792 when the monastery closed and it was taken to the Laurentian Library in Florence, where it is to this day. In 1888 a scholar called Giovanni Battista de Rossi noted the similarity in text to the bibles mentioned by Bede, and also noted that the dedication of Petrus Langobardorum (Peter of Lombardy, see right, line 5) had been added over Ceolfridus Anglorum (Ceolfrid of England) which had been partially removed. This was one of the great Ceolfrid pandects.

 

 

Greenwell leafWhat happened to the two books that stayed? We have evidence that one was presented to King Offa when it was thought that it was a book from Rome, but that hasn’t survived, and nor has the other. However, individual leaves have. The most famous is the Greenwell leaf (right) discovered by the Reverend Greenwell in an old register that he said he bought in Newcastle. Other leaves have turned up including one from a book found at Kingston Lacy; mainly these are used as binding waste, which is why they are often discoloured and with pieces cut off.

So the Codex Amiatinus, one of the most famous books in the world because of its purity of text and script, is actually an English book produced by English scribes from Northumbria. Perhaps its name should be changed to Codex Northumbrianus (or whatever the Latin translation would be!).

St Albans’ Psalter

Christina of MarkyateChristina of Markyate (c1096–1155, and probably on the right, closest to Christ), first called Theodora and born in Huntingdon, was clearly a stunner, as it is recorded that various men were attracted to her. The story is that she fled from Burhred, her husband, on their wedding night, having, after a visit to St Albans in her teens, promised to remain a virgin and devote her life to God. It is unlikely, and records suggest, that Christina didn’t actually leave the night of her wedding, though. When she did finally go, she was sheltered by various hermits on the way until she reached Roger, who was a hermit at Markyate, which is close to St Albans. She stayed with Roger until he died, and then took over his cell. Christina attracted other women to her, including her sister Margaret, and eventually the land around Markyate was given to the foundation by Canterbury Cathedral, the previous owners.

St Alban's PsalterChristina was protected by and became friendly with Abbot Geoffrey (1119–1146) of St Albans, who was French and originally from the abbey at near Le Mans. Geoffrey made great changes at the abbey when he took office, commissioning various items for the church including jewelled copes, a silver candlestick, three ampullas, and he also had the shrine of St Albans rebuilt. In addition, Geoffrey commissioned a vita (life) of Christina which has now sadly been lost, but there is a fourteenth century version now in the British Library.

Annunc-CropThe relationship between Christina and Geoffery is an interesting one. Christina called Geoffery ‘my beloved’ and Geoffery called her ‘my girl and beloved maiden’. Christina had visions and she advised Geoffery as a result of these; it was said that she was ‘sensibly reproving him when his actions were not quite right’. However, Geoffrey’s regular visits to Christina did set the tongues of the gossips wagging and it was written ‘the abbot was slandered as a seducer and the maiden as a loose woman’. Perhaps her making him some underwear for his trip to Rome ‘not for pleasure but to mitigate the discomfort of the journey’ didn’t help either of their reputations!
_54632303_psalter-davidIt is likely that the St Alban’s Psalter was made especially for Christina at the instigation of Abbott Geoffrey. The illuminations are simply stunning, particularly those painted by the Alexis Master. The Psalter (Book of Psalms) was made at St Albans Abbey and no doubt kept at the priory at Markyate. Dates in the calendar relate to Christina with the dedication of her priory, and the deaths of her, and family members, are also recorded. In addition there are dates for female saints and virgins in the calendar which does suggest a female owner.

 

 

St Albans Psalter

The Psalter has been being re-bound at the Getty Museum, and there has also been an exhibition of all the unbound pages alongside beautiful stained glass from Canterbury Cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

St Albans PsalterWhilst at the Getty, there have been major studies on the manuscript and, as part of this, they have been able to identify the face of the devil scratched out and tiny pin pricks in the eyes of demons. A knowledge of the mind-set of the mediaeval has explained these. People believed that to see, rays of light left the eyes, ‘saw’ and then returned. The pin pricks were only in the eyes of the demons. These then ‘prevented’ a potentially dangerous event of the demons’ eyes being able to ‘look’.

It is a wonderful manuscript, and ideal for copying to learn manuscript painting techniques.

 

demons_closeup

What’s on show at the British Library?

Lovell LectionaryI thought it would be helpful to have an easy link to the manuscripts on display at the British Library. Thanks to Dr Kathleen Doyle for supplying the list. I plan to update this when new manuscripts are added or are removed.

These are they:

Harley MS 4431, ff. 2v-3 Christine de Pizan
Add. MS 20698, ff. 69v-70 The City of Ladies
Harley 7026 ff. 4v – 5 The Lovell Lectionary, England, 1400 – 1410
Egerton 608 ff. 138v – 139 An Echternach Gospel-book, middle of the 11th Century
Harley 2804 ff. 216v – 217 The Worms Bible, central Germany, circa 1148
Add. MS 16977 ff. 186v – 187 Glossed Bible, Paris, Second-half of the 13th Century
Egerton 618 ff. 57v – 58 Early Wycliffite Bible, London circa 1400
Royal 1 C viii ff. 325v – 326 Later Wycliffite Bible. London (?), Early 15th Century
Add. MS 39625 ff. 71v – 72 The Vidin Gospels, Bulgaria, mid-14th Century.
Add MS 39626  ff 292-293 The Gospels of Jakov of Serres
Add. MS 39627 The Gospels of Ivan Alexander
Sloane 1975, ff.42v-43 Herbal
Add 41623, ff.35v-36 Herbal
Add 18850, ff.207v-208 Bedford Hours
Add 82945, ff.18v-19 Wardington Hours
Harley Roll Y.6, first 2 or 3 membranes Guthlac Roll
Add 5111, ff.10-11 Canon tables
Burney 19, ff.63v-64 Portrait of Mark

Gold on Parchment

Gold on ParQuills, vellum and parchment (they are different!), real gold, egg tempera paints, the development of scripts, how manuscripts were made, how quills are cut, the sequence of manuscript painting, scribes, all this and more will be covered in the ‘Gold on Parchment’ session that I’ll be giving at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney on Monday 6th January from 5.30-7.30pm. Entrance is free. Do come along if you’re in the area (yes, I know it’s a long way, but you might enjoy it and could even be worth the airfare!!).