The Purple Codex

June 28, 2016 / Art & Archaeology
Rossano, Calabria

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The Codex Purpureus is heading home. After a meticulous four year long restoration, and the creation of a special climate controlled display case, it will once again be put on display at the the museum of the Archdiocese of Rossano as of July 2nd. (The museum is part of Rossano’s Maria Santissima Achiropita Cathedral, where the codex was first “found” over 100 years ago.)


Called the Purple Codex due to the particular color of the parchment, this 6th century masterpiece is among the earliest illustrated books in existence, possibly the oldest. It is the first of two volumes of a Book of the Gospels, and contains the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Unfortunately, nothing is known about the second volume, lost at some point during the past 15 centuries.


Written in silver and occasionally gold ink, this 15 by 10 inch book contains an beautiful series of miniatures from the Life of Christ, arranged in two sections per page, occasionally with small portraits of the evangelists below pointing up to the events they describe in their gospels. Only one of four in the world with these characteristics, it is the only one that is bound as a single book as opposed to a collection of unbound parchments.

– Needless to say, Rossano is justifiably pulling out all the stops to celebrate the Codex’s return, with a lecture, presentation, inauguration, and a mass among other events over the entire weekend. For more info, visit Rossano-Cariati’s website.

(Photos courtesy of Mons. Antonio De Simone – Archdiocese of Rossano Cariati)




by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

7 Responses to “The Purple Codex”

  1. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    How beautiful! The colours! Anyone guess who the woman is in last illustration? Mary Magdalene? Thank you GB.

    • Richard

      Not Mary Magdalene. The lady is Sophia, divine wisdom and inspiration!

  2. Rosemary Johnson

    Don’t think I’ve heard of this before. Thanks for the article!

  3. Cynthia Tareshawty

    Were the illustrations restored directly on the parchment?

  4. Lina Falcone

    Grazie GB the photos are just beautiful. Thank you for the article.

  5. Marianna Raccuglia

    Such a treat for your readers! The illustrations take my breath away. Thank you

  6. Victoria De Maio

    What a magnificent treasure! Breathtaking–so gratified to know it has been saved, restored and, most important, returned home. Rightfully so.
    Thank you, again, for bringing our awareness to a little known artifact that deserves acknowledgement.


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