DiVine Tale


The great historian, an English Roman Catholic monk, Beda the Venerable (673-735 AD) author of biographies on abbot Ceolfried and his brothers, abbot Benedict Biscop, abbot Sigfrid and the twin abbeys of Jarrow-Wearmouth, wrote that these monks repeatedly travelled to and returned from Rome many times during the ancient times, passing through the most direct route between England and Rome. The part of the pathway in France was essentially the way of the Saxon evangelizers also called the "chemin des Anglais."  The part of the journey in Italy instead took the name Via Romea, Via Francesca or Via Francigena.

On one of his trips to Rome, Abbot Ceolfried (Ceolfrudus Anglicorum) purchased one of the first written copies, in Latin, of the sacred book, the Bible, one of the few that existed in the world.  It was transcribed by Monk Cassiodorus and was handed over at the time of Cassiodorus' death, as most codes were at the time, to the Lateran collection of the Vivarium library.

In Vivarium, near Squillace Calabria, the great monk Cassiodorus along with other scribe monks founded a monastery and library where he retired after a lifetime of intense political activity.  This was his birth town, where he also worked with Emperor Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, before his death.  The great Cassiodorus founded the Vivarium monastery in order to save the fundamentals of literature, science, Latin and Greek from devastation in the immense Gothic war of 535-553 AD.  They opposed the Byzantine Empire, protecting the Ostrogoths' territories, that until then were part of the Western Roman Empire.  They strongly opposed the terrible things that were taking place during those years in Italy.  

The long years of war and widespread destruction had depopulated entire cities, impoverishing populations which were already worn out by long periods of famine and deleted by an epidemic of plague that plunged Italy into a dark period.  During this historical time period with only rare chronicles of reported incidents of cannibalism, the ancient codes and large collections of Roman Empire laws, but also the wisdom and knowledge of past Latin and Greek were put to the fire and burned, nothing would have been saved without the determination and efforts implemented by the Vivarium Monastery.

The Vivarium Monastery contains saved works of Sacred Scripture, along with 22 books of Jewish Antiquity, and hundreds of articles on science and cosmography written on papyrus, such as the famous Ptolemy Code, Aristotle's works of philosophy and agricultural and the famous medical works of Hippocrates and Galen.

The activities carried out by the Vivarium Monastery affected all of the monasteries in Europe and from that moment on the monastic system adapted the task of regularly reproducing documents as part of its activities.

Among these immense treasures, that the monk's copyists of Cassiodorus created was a copy of an ancient Bible, titled Codex Grandior because of its size.

This ancient copy of the Bible along with two other manuscripts by Cassiodorus and his monks are the first amanuensis copies in a unique set of translations, implemented in Latin, ancient Greek and Hebrew on papyrus from San Girolamo.

Cassiodorus instructed his chosen translators and grammarian scribes not to hurry when translating the recorded words but to respect and preserve the peculiarities in grammar, metaphors and the composition of the sentences.

Abbot Cassiodorus considered the text of the bible of St. Jerome to be divinely inspired, and its translation was not, therefore in any way to be corrupted by mistranslation or translational errors.

Shortly after the death of Cassiodorus, which probably occurred around 583 AD, a large part of the Vivarium library was transferred to the Lateran Library in Rome.  Once there, Monk Abate Ceolfrid purchased the Grandior Codex to bring it to the Kingdom of Northumbria, now England, where in turn this ancient code dispersed and was probably copied three times. Two of these copies were given to the Abbeys of Wearmouth and Jarrow, the founder.

The third copy was to be taken to Rome as a gift for Pope Gregory II.
This copy had a dedicatory inscription which mentioned the name of Abbot Ceolfrith, who as a sign of faith, gave this gift to the Pope.

About 80 monks from Wearmouth and Jarrow left for Rome on June 4, 716.

But Abbot Ceolfrid already 73, died on September 25 in Lengres.  The Code that was supposed to be donated to the Pope went on to Rome on the Via Francigena route, and this important manuscript never reached in Pope Gregory II's hands.

The manuscript's journey from "Extremis de finibus" which was considered England at the time, seems to have stopped in "Callemala" which extends from the Valley of the Paglia river to the slopes of the mountains of Radicofani (link) where there was an ancient paved road from the Roman era that reached Monte Amiata.

The village of Callemala, which at the time had about 300 inhabitants was found at the plateau where the streams of Vascio, Cacarello, and Pagliola flow into the Paglia river and on towards the Voltole Village where the church of San Pietro was located.

It seems that here in this place, which today is mostly surrounded by woods, is where the monks were forced to leave the famous code.  As to why it was left here still remains a mystery.

The Code reappeared a century later at the Abbey of San Salvatore on Mount Amiata, which was built at the same time.  This was where it was kept for about 1,000 years acquiring the name Codex Amiatinus.  In 1786 the Amiatinus Codex was transferred to the Laurentian Library in Florence as requested by the Grand Duke Leopold II of Habsburg-Lorraine.  This is where it remains to this day.

The Code is composed of 1040 sheets of well-preserved parchment and measures 49 cm high and 34 cm wide, with a thickness of 18 cm and a weight of 34 kg.

codice amiatinus

It required about 2000 heads of livestock to create the parchment pages that make up this great ancient codex.  The print is in two columns per page and it is a rare example of onciale medieval calligraphy which was suitable for the Code.

The first page of the Amiatinus Codex opens with miniatures on parchment (500mmx340mm) depicting the Prophet Ezra (some versions instead were of Monk Cassiodorus) writing on a code with a cabinet containing the other manuscripts volumes in the background.

The Armarium of a Classic Latin "weapon" indicates a storage room, a chest of tools or arms or a niche in a wall of a room used for storing weapons.

From the Upper Middle Ages (from 476 AD, the year of the fall of the Western Roman Empire until approximately the year 1000) the library was designated to collect the few books of the community and those of private individuals.

Even large collections from Western Christians in the Lateran Palaces followed this pattern of imprinting miniatures of the ancient medieval codes and especially in the Vivarium Library of Cassiodorus where the collections were divided by topics for the Armarium with true analytical bibliographies of the codes contained therein.

The cabinets that contained the codes were wooden furniture, not very tall, with shelves and doors, but they could hold large quantities because they were very long, covering an entire wall.

The existence of this code was probably known to the Empress Galla Placidia because in her mausoleum in Ravenna there was a beautiful mosaic with the same design as the beginning of the code, with an Armarium in the background containing manuscripts.

Mausoleo di Galla Placidia

Today the Codex Amiatinus initially designed with this miniature on parchment can be seen at the Laurentian Library in Florence



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