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Thursday, April 25 2024

Giant Bible returns to England after 1300 years

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London: A bible half-a-meter thick and made from the skin of 500 animals is to return to England where it was first made for the first time in 1,300 years, the British Library has said.

The Bible, known as the Codex Amiatinus, was created by monks in northern England in the early part of the eighth century and then taken as a gift to the pope in what is now Italy, Xinhua reported on Saturday.

It has remained there ever since, for more than 1,000 years in a monastery and since the 18th century in a library in the northern Italian city of Florence.

The Bible, bound in leather and containing all the books of the bible written on the hides of sheep and cows, known as vellum, is set to return to be the centerpiece of an exhibition at the British Library in London.

“It is the earliest complete manuscript of the Bible in latin,” Dr Claire Breay, head of medieval literature at the British Library was quoted as saying.

It was made in Northumbria in northern England in the eighth century, as the abbot of the monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow commissioned three giant bibles, said Breay.

The Bible was written out in hand, letter by letter by a team of monks who would have laboured for months over the task under the leadership of head abbot Ceolfrith.

As a consequence few Bibles were ever produced and the ravages of time mean that even fewer are left.

Bound copies of the whole Bible were very rare because it was huge.

“They produced these three giant bibles. One has been completely lost, one a few leaves survive which we have in the British Library and the other survived intact in Italy,” said Breay.

The Bible is written not on paper but on vellum, the hides of cows and sheep stretched and processed.

This is durable and hard-wearing but also much bulkier than paper, meaning that the leather bound Bible stands half a meter high and weighs 34kg.

“It is an incredible thing. It has over 1,000 leaves (of vellum), requiring the skins of more than 1000 animals in it. The spine of the book is almost 15 centimeters thick,” Breay said.

“It is one of the greatest treasures to survive from Anglo-Saxon times but probably one of the least known.”

Ceolfrith decided to give one of the precious Bibles to the pope, but in order to do so he had to travel with it to Rome, which was a long and arduous trip at that time. He got as far as Langres in France, where he died en route, but the Bible made it to Rome.

“For a very long time it was in the Amiata Monastery in Northern Italy, but at the end of the 18th century with the suppression of that monastery it has been at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence,” Breay said.

The bible is on loan and will be displayed with the St. Cuthbert Gospel, also made at Wearmouth-Jarrow around the same time. It was acquired by the British Library, the national library for Britain in 2012.

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