The Tabernacle of Moses from the Codex Amiatinus by Unknown English artist

Unknown English artist

The Tabernacle of Moses, from the Codex Amiatinus , Before 716, Illumination on parchment, 500 x 335 mm, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, MS Amiatino 1, fol. 2v–3r, By permission of the Ministry of Culture

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Remaking the Tabernacle

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This double-page ‘map’ of the Tabernacle is found right at the start of the Codex Amiatinus (fols 2v–3), the oldest surviving Latin Bible in one volume. It was written before 716 CE at the Northumbrian twin monasteries of Monkwearmouth–Jarrow. Each of the 1030 leaves measures 50 x 34 cm, and the Codex is 18 cm thick.

The illumination closely follows the blueprint God gave in Exodus: we see a portable tent-like structure, with its framework of acacia wood, housed within a courtyard enclosed by a draped colonnade (Exodus 26; 27:9).

Exodus 30 tells us that within this precinct, and in front of the Tabernacle’s entrance, were to be a large bronze laver for ablutions, and an altar for burnt offerings. Inside the Tabernacle, the sanctuary housed the seven-branched candelabra, the table of showbread, and, before the curtain veiling the Ark of the Covenant, the golden altar of incense.

The recreation of these details in the Codex’s illumination is in many respects very precise—except when it comes to the proportions of the altar of incense. In God’s instruction to Moses, that altar’s height was to be twice the length of its sides (v.2), yet the dimensions in this illumination are akin to those of common near-eastern incense burners—and include a label mentioning an alternative ‘learned’ word for incense, ‘thym(iama)’. Perhaps one of these burners had travelled to Northumbria, together with the incense that we know the monks possessed and used (Farmer 1965: 203). Similarly, the menorah and the curvaceous laver echo actual known models. The monks may have encountered them among the luxury goods imported to adorn their monasteries—Bede tells of ‘countless valuable gifts’ brought back by Benedict for his communities on his fifth journey to Rome (Farmer 1965: 194).

These objects made tangible connections with far-away lands and with the history of salvation.



Farmer, D. H. (ed.). 1965. The Age of Bede (London: Penguin)

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