The monks of Jarrow, Monkwearmouth and Lindisfarne were amongst the greatest scholars and writers in Europe - in the case of Bede, probably the greatest scholar (see Jarrow for more details). Benedict Biscop, as well as bringing Romanesque architecture to Northumbria was also a great collector of books, at a time when books were written by hand and in Europe almost exclusively by monks. His successor as Abbot of Monkwearmouth, Ceolfrith, was also a bibliophile and he it was who ordered the monks to create a copy of the Bible - the Codex Amiatinus. This was a major undertaking because the complete Bible is so large and reproducing it in its entirety would have consumed so much time and materials. Most books were “Psalters” - sections of the Bible - of which the Lindisfarne Gospels is perhap the most celebrated.
The Codex weighs ten times more than the Lindisfarne Gospels and has 2030 pages, each of which was written and decorated by hand. It weighs 30 Kg.
Three copies were made: one each for Jarrow and Monkwearmouth and one for the Pope. The Jarrow/Monkwearmouth copies are lost. Ceolfrith died in France on the journey to deliver the Pope’s copy. For many years it was kept at the monastery of Monte Amiata, hence its name, but is now held in Florence. There is a half-sized copy in Sunderland Library and a full-sized copy at “Bede’s World”.
What the hell is the only surviving original copy still doing in Florence, you may wonder? Well, I certainly wonder at it anyway. What a splendid gesture it would be for it to be returned to its birthplace to be one of the great treasures of British history. I suppose a country that hangs on so determinedly to bits of the Parthenon can’t complain too much but it does seem a shame.