Working at the Congregational Library has given me a soft spot for large illuminated manuscripts, particularly Bibles. So when I came across a recent article on the British Library's Medieval manuscripts blog, I just had to share it. This early-8th century tome went on quite a journey in its day, being taken from northeastern England, through France, and finally ending up at an Italian monastery.
Our story begins with Ceolfrith, saint and abbot of the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in Northumbria from 690 to 716. Ceolfrith was Bede's early mentor, and during his rule the size and wealth of the monastery increased greatly and the number of books in the library doubled. Most famously, Ceolfrith commissioned three large Bibles from his own scriptoria: one for Jarrow, one for Wearmouth and the third for the Pope.
Realising that he was close to death, Ceolfrith resigned from the abbacy in 716 and set out for Rome, where he planned to present one of the Bibles to Pope Gregory II (715-731) and to remain to await his death. But he died en route, at Langres in Burgundy, and the Bible he was carrying instead made its way to the monastery of Monte Amiata in Florence. It is the only one of Ceolfrith's three Bibles to survive intact, and is now in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana at Florence, known as the Codex Amiatinus and the oldest surviving full copy of the Bible in Latin. The image [to the right] of Christ in Majesty with the four Evangelists is one of two full-page miniatures from this huge volume, which is over 48cm tall, weighs 35kg and has more than one thousand pages.
If you'd like to learn more about the fate of this book and see some of its text, you can read the full article on the Medieval manuscripts blog. Or if Bibles don't strike your fancy, you can explore other beautiful books in the British Library's Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, where all of the images are free to use under public domain copyright rules.