Saturday 17th. May, 2014 – A Walk and a Trip 

I had my camera with me as Mix and I walked this morning. We live in a very beautiful place – as this picture of Fogo Kirk with a huge field of rape in front of it demonstrates

Slept in until after nine and then, once I was up, Mix and I set out on a long walk. We walked to Bogend Farm and from there down the little country road to Fogo at which point we turned right across the so-called weak bridge over the River Blackadder to Caldra Farm from where we journeyed to Clunklaw Farm, to Nisbet Hill and home over our own bridge over the Blackadder. The weather was glorious and I took some pictures as we journeyed.

Everywhere in the fields there were sheep who were all clearly enjoying the sunshine

The lambs are getting bigger and are playing in the fields

Even in this snap you can see how bright the sun was

There is a great deal of yellow in the fields just now – but doesn’t the little bridge look beautiful too?

This is the River Blackadder which meanders all around the area in which we live

I met some cows who also had their young with them

I hadn’t realised that I could see Gavinton from the road between Caldra Farm and Clunklaw – it’s a bit hazy in the distance because I had to use the telephoto lens and hold onto Mix rather than steady the camera (but it’s not bad for a snap)

One of the horses at Nisbet Hill – most interested to inspect Mix and I as we wandered past

Back home I got my breath back, had a croissant for lunch and did a small bit of grass cutting before getting ready to go to Jarrow with Rachel, Scott and Sue. This was a special event at Bede’s World to celebrate the bringing to the museum for a few months a facsimile edition of the Codex Amiatinus, a huge copy of the Latin Bible possibly of Saint Jerome and possibly of another Old Latin translation, completed in the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow late in the seventh century.

I’m fascinated by the book, not least because of my experiences with the Rossdhu Book of Hours in Luss a few years ago. This Codex Amiatinus owes its origins to two Northumbrian Saints, Saint Benedict Biscop and Saint Ceolfrith. It also would never have been produced without the life and work of a little known Italian nobleman called Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator, known as Cassiodorus, who lived between 485 and 585 AD.

Cassiodorus was a Roman statesman and writer who spent more than twenty years of his adult life in Constantinople and, who when he retired, set up a monastery within his family estates right on the sole of the foot of Italy.

Cassiodorus did a great deal to raise the importance of copying texts. He was committed to the education not only of monks and ecclesiastics but also of the general community. One of Cassiodorus’ great projects was the production of a huge Bible (that’s why it is called Codex Grandior) for his monastery. It was written in Old Latin.

Some normally reliable sources say that the Latin used was the Vulgate, the name given to the Latin translation of Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin in Bethlehem between 382 and 405. The first part of his efforts were devoted to ‘correcting’ an existing Latin translation and then he translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin. This created something of a stushie in academic circles at the time partly because most people thought that the Greek translation (the Septuagint) was inspired and partly because Jerome’s Hebrew was not very good – he may actually have used an earlier work by Origen of Alexandria to assist him.

Other reliable sources (possibly more reliable) suggest that it was the earlier Old Latin translation which was used by Cassiodorus and that this (rather than any changes made by the northern English monks), accounts for divergences between Jerome and the Jarrow Bible.

By any stretch of the imagination Cassiodorus’ project was a huge one which clearly inspired Benedict and Ceolfrith who wished not just to make one copy of this tome but three.

Benedict was a member of the royal household of King Oswiu, leaving his privileged position at the age of twenty-five to join the Church, almost immediately setting off for Rome on a pilgrimage with Saint Wilfrid. The journey obviously was one which greatly influenced Benedict because it was one which he repeated a further five times and which led to his setting up the twin monasteries at Wearmouth, in 674, and in Jarrow in 682.

Benedict was committed to making his monasteries not just places of worship but places of great learning and from the earliest days he committed considerable resources to the creation of two libraries – very considerable resources, as in those days books had to be copied by hand onto expensive vellum (calf-skin). Benedict also searched far and wide for books and other treasures to bring to his monastic base.

It was in Rome in 678 that Benedict, this time accompanied by Ceolfrith whom he had recruited to help establish the new monastery, acquired the sixth century Italian Bible known as the Codex Grandior. As described above it was a copy of an Old Latin translation from the original languages. This was the source of the Bible which was being celebrated today in Jarrow.

It was fourteen years later that Ceolfrith takes centre stage. Two years earlier, on the death of Benedict, Ceolfrith became Abbot of both Wearmouth and Jarrow. Now, in 692 he negotiated a grant of land to enable his monks to raise two thousand head of cattle to provide the calf-skins for his ambitious project which was to have his libraries produce three complete copies of the entire Bible. Today we are used to complete Bibles but it was quite unusual in those days. Think of the Lindisfarne Gospels and consider what proportion of the Bible is given over to Gospels to realise the scale of his ambition.

Ceolfrith’s plan was to have one of these huge Bibles in each of his monasteries and to have one which he would take as a gift for the Pope. (Gifts to the Pope, just as visits to Rome, were particularly important at this time, given that the Synod of Whitby which led to the Northumbrian Churches giving their full alliance to Rome had only taken place in 664, less than thirty years before.)

Presumably the three copies of the Latin translation originally produced for Cassiodorus, for his monastic foundation at Vivarium in Italy were completed and two installed in the twin monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow, and presumably they were destroyed by Viking raids. But the third, set off for Rome as planned – but not until the year 716 when Ceolfrith, now seventy-four or seventy-five years old, retired as abbot and set off for Rome. He should have gone sooner because he died without reaching Italy, at Langres Monastery in Burgundy.

What happened next, no one really knows. Some say that the codex did reach Rome, carried by Ceolfrith’s friends, and was given to the Pope. However, it did end up in the monastery at Amiata near Siena, where it remained from the ninth century until the monastery closed in 1792. But all those who saw it during this time were unaware from where it had come as the title page was altered to suggest that it had been commissioned not by Ceolfrith but a follower of Saint Benedict (of the ‘Rule of St. Benedict’ not St. Benedict Biscop!) and had been produced back in around 540 at Monte Cassino. It was only in the late nineteenth century that its true provenance was rediscovered. The 540 dating is quite interesting because it ties in with the timing of the production of the Codex Grandior and suggests that the copy made for Ceolfrith was a very good one!

For those who are interested in studying the Old Latin translations of scripture, it remains a fascinating and priceless book, one of the oldest extant copies to date and, apart from one small book, is complete. Its illuminations also give an insight into the life of the times and also establish a link with the Codex Grandior as at least one illumination (that of Ezra) is thought to have been copied from that work.

More recently the book was presented once more to the Pope and is now housed in the Laurentian Library in Florence and a facsimile edition has been created. It is this facsimile edition which has come to Bede’s World brought by folk from Amiata San Salvatore who celebrate a medieval weekend in July every year and who have established a friendship-linkage with Bede’s World. It is a particularly apposite linkage because both also have mining roots – the community of San Salvatore with Mercury and South Tyneside with coal.

So much for the story, now to our evening.

We arrived via the Tyne Tunnel at Bede’s World and, as we were a moment or two early, we wandered around the medieval farm. There are lots of pictures on my entry for April 1st, 2014 but here are another couple on the theme of animals as that is the theme I started with today:

Bathed in sunshine, these sheep are enjoying being part of Bede’s World

And this hairy pig is quite unlike any other pig I have seen before

We walked around and then made sure that we were back inside for the drinks reception:

The reception brought together the party of sixteen or so who had come across from Italy for the start of the Festival of the Book with many of the people who had supported Bede’s World, sponsors, the Mayor and Lady Mayor, Dame Rosemary the archaeologist who had been responsible for making so much of what is going on happen in the first place, and some of the users of the museum and its facilities

The Italian young folk were all in medieval costume

Some represented the clerics responsible for the Abbey San Salvatore

Some were champions brawling in a civilised medieval manner

We returned indoors for the ceremony of the bringing in of the Bible; preceded by drummers the Bible was carried into the museum

The Bible was placed in the position it will occupy for the next few weeks and a word was spoken by Professor Manuela Vestri who had travelled from Amiata for the official unveiling of the replica Codex

It looked very good

We all made our way to the dining area where, while we were fed, we were entertained by Italian minstrels

By the time the band from Jarrow started to play we had eaten our way through several courses – antipasto of Pork, ham, salami, cheese and pate, two plates of pasta, one a tomato-based flour and water pasta, the other a tagliatelle with a wild boar sauce. Then we had two main courses: wild boar with stewed pear followed by a wild boar stew. We ended with a superb torta, very sweet and full of chocolate, all washed down with two delicious wines from around Florence and some strong black coffee. The screen had been used to show wonderful pictures of the medieval weekend in Italy and the home of the book

Our chef for the night had been flown in from Italy and was ably assisted by his team: the youngsters from Italy and the staff of Bede’s World

It was an excellent evening, the start of something special for Bede’s World. We sat with Sheila from the Anglican Church and two of the leading volunteer users of the centre, Joan and Irene. We were in excellent company for what was a grand evening.

Scott drove us home – and it was well into Sunday by the time we got to bed after a fabulous day.


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