The Codex Amiatinus is the earliest surviving manuscript of the complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate. It is considered the most accurate copy of Saint Jerome’s original translation and was used in the revision of the Vulgate by Pope Sixtus V in 1585‒90. Preserved in the Medicea Laurenziana Library in Florence, it is one of the world’s most important manuscripts. In his Ecclesiastical History of England, the English historian and scholar known as the Venerable Bede (673‒735) records that the Benedictine monk Ceolfrid (642‒716), abbot of Wearmouth and Jarrow and a teacher of Bede, commissioned three large Bibles from the abbey’s Wearmouth-Jarrow scriptorium, two of which were placed in each of the twin churches in Wearmouth and Jarrow and the third of which was intended as a gift for the pope. The Bibles were copied from the sixth-century Codex Grandior, now lost. Of the three texts, only the exemplar that later came to be known as the Codex Amiatinus survives. Completed by seven different scribes, it was presented to Pope Gregory II by associates of Ceolfrid, who died on his way to Rome in 716. The manuscript was kept for centuries in the Abbey of the Holy Savior at Monte Amiata in Tuscany before it came to the Laurentian Library in 1782, following the suppression of the religious orders by Pietro Leopoldo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany (ruled 1765–90). The codex features two major illuminations, a portrait of the Old Testament prophet Ezra and a depiction of Christ in Majesty. Ezra is shown writing a manuscript on his lap, seated before an open book cupboard containing a Bible in nine volumes. The illumination is among the oldest images in the Western world to show a bookcase and the bindings of books. The codex also includes a two-page plan of the Tabernacle in the Temple at Jerusalem. The manuscript shows many Byzantine influences, particularly in the illuminations, and it was long thought to be of Italo-Byzantine, rather than of English, origin. A distinguishing feature of the codex is its large size. It consists of 1,030 folios measuring around 505 by 340 millimeters. Each bifolium required an entire calfskin to produce.
Wearmouth and Jarrow, England
Title in Original Language
Biblia Sacra / Bibbia Amiatina
Type of Item
1030 folios, vellum : illuminated ; 36 x 25.5 centimeters of text on pages of 50 x 34 centimeters
- Richard Gameson, “The Cost of the Codex Amiatinus,” Notes & Queries 39, number 1 (March 1992).
- George Hind, “St. Ceolfrid,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 3 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908). <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03536a.htm>.
- “The Codex Amiatinus: the Earliest Surviving Complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate, Containing One of the Earliest Surviving Images of Bookbindings and a Bookcase (Circa 688 – 716),” in Jeremy Norman’s HistoryofInformation.com, http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=226.
Last updated: October 17, 2017