The Atlantic Biblical Codex, a 12th century work, a contemporary of King Afonso Henriques and the oldest “treasure” of the General Library of the University of Coimbra (BG/UC), will be shown to the public on Thursday, the institution announced.
Speaking to the Lusa agency, João Gouveia Monteiro, director of the BG/UC, recalled that the General Library has kept in its collection, for several centuries, “a pocket codex, on parchment, of the Holy Bible or Bible Atlantic, dating from the twelfth century”, which will be the “star” of a session in charge of António Gomes, specialist in palaeography and diplomacy and professor at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Coimbra (FLUC), in collaboration with Maria de Fátima Bogalho, Senior Technician of the Old Books Section of the Library.
According to Gouveia Monteiro, the Atlantic Bible – also known as the Giant Bible and whose baptismal name derives from Atlanteans, a giant from Greek mythology condemned by Zeus to carry, for eternity, the celestial vault on his shoulders – was published at the time of the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques.
“I make this reference so that people have an idea of its antiquity. If our first king had been a little more inclined to read, which was neither his priority nor his vocation, he could have taken care of the book that we are going to show publicly,” observed the head of the General Library.
Professor FLUC, doctor of history and former pro-rector for culture, specified, on the other hand, that the Atlantic Bible is part of the medieval tradition of the so-called Sacra Página, that is to say the Bible study, “which occupied a place of enormous importance in medieval culture, which until the end of the twelfth century was very much centered on the study and interpretation of the Bible”, he says.
Indeed, said Gouveia Monteiro, the monks, in their monasteries, practiced an exercise called biblical exegesis: “they tried to find allegorical meanings in the passages of the Holy Scriptures. Remove not only the literal meaning of the sentences, but also the moral value, the meaning that would be behind the writings, hidden between the lines”.
This tradition of Sacra Página “animated life” in the offices of copies of ancient books of medieval monasteries, as represented, recalled the director of BG/UC, in the film The name of the Rose – directed in 1986 by Jean-Jacques Annaud, with Sean Connery and Christian Slater in the main roles – based on the homonymous historical novel by the writer Umberto Eco, published a few years earlier and which “has this reconstruction of this environment of medieval monasteries”.
“Bibles were the subject of copying and this absorbed much of the effort and talent of these copyist monks, who were often people who, even for physical reasons, could not indulge in other types manual work, in agriculture or crafts. But they had culture, scholarship, enough knowledge and also talent to make these copies,” he explained.
“Copying took a long time. Copying an entire Bible from beginning to end on parchment was a cyclopean task, it was the manual photocopying of the time”, illustrated Gouveia Monteiro.
In some medieval codices, the copyists made notes in the margins of the pages “to say how many hours of purgatory they have already saved with this work”.
“It was an effort that was rewarded at the time of the Last Judgment, it was an account of good deeds and there are fragments, in certain notes, which suggest it in the margins of medieval manuscripts”, underlined João Gouveia Monteiro.
This is not the case with the UC General Library’s Atlantic Bible which, more than a book, “is a sumptuous work of art”, a Bible “of giant dimensions”, more than a half a meter high by 36 centimeters wide. lenght.
In the collection of the General Library of the University of Coimbra there are other Bibles, such as the Hebrew “which is in great demand, even by the Jewish delegations” who visit it.
“We are very moved to see a Bible that dates from the end of the 15th century, which must have belonged to a Jewish family that had to flee Portugal and then Spain, when the Jews who did not want to convert to Christians were expelled of the Iberian Peninsula,” he noted.
“This Bible is much smaller than this one. And, for example, the first edition of the Lusiadswhen we show it publicly, despite a huge bibliographic value, people are very disappointed, to be small, in a poor quality paper”.
“Not this one, it’s a really monumental thing, which has a really marvelous level of decoration,” Gouveia Monteiro said, pointing out that the intervention of calligraphers, illuminators and miniaturists – responsible for the carolina letter in Latin of the end of the 12th century, drawn by different hands, together with illustrations relating to biblical scenes, motifs of flora and fantastic animals and opening chapters illuminated in gold, silver and various colors on a gold background and blue – “make it a kind of treasure book, the oldest treasure in the General Library”.
The Atlantic Bible, which was not something that “walked in the hands of the people” in medieval times, outside the monasteries, although there could be “a figure of great political dimension, at the level of the royalty, or of the Pope, to whom it could be offered”, because these codices, “the complete ones, are extremely rare”, he indicated.
The work, which is digitized and available for online consultation on the Alma Mater page, the General Library’s repository of old books, will be on public display during Thursday’s session, promoted by the Liga dos Amigos da Biblioteca Geral and scheduled for 6 p.m. in the São Pedro room of the institution.