TCNJ Magazine - Winter 2019

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22 The College of New Jersey Magazine n a hot summer day in 2004,in a Florentine library designed by Michelangelo, Celia Chazelle finally laid eyes on the Bible. Not just any Bible. This was the Codex Amiatinus. Among medievalists, Amiatinus is rock-star famous. It is the oldest intact Latin Bible in the world, the manuscript at the heart of the version adopted by the Catholic Church at the end of the 16th century and still in use today. Its size — more than a foot thick and weighing 75 pounds — is as epic as its trajectory across Europe, carried more than a thousand miles by a band of monks, surviving then, and to this day, without a single page missing. At the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Chazelle was assigned two study spaces at a wooden table and told to wait. Flies buzzed in and out of open windows. The scholars working in the room around her were silent. Suddenly, a dolly wheeled up beside her. Two librarians carefully lifted Amiatinus to the table. Chazelle, now chair of TCNJ's history department, felt history rush to life. "This was something Bede himself had touched," she says, recalling the Venerable Bede, the famously prolific monk who was a member of the English monastery where Amiatinus was created. "It was a very emotional experience." But there was no time to waste. Just five or six hours were left in the day. Armed with a magnifying glass, paper, and a pencil, she quickly set to work. O Chazelle's long road to the Codex Amiatinus began decades earlier, on a remote and rocky island in the Atlantic Ocean. It was 1973, just before she was to start her studies at the University of Toronto. She'd taken a gap year, working for all but the last couple of months of summer, when she backpacked across Europe. She zigzagged from the Black Forest to Rome to the south of France, eventually arriving at Skellig Michael, a tiny island off the coast of County Kerry, in Ireland, where her life's course would be set. Skellig Michael spikes up and out of the ocean like the sharp tip of a mountain rising from beneath the waves. Located at the far edge of Western Europe, it was on this island, sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries, that Christian monks settled and established a monastery later dedicated to Saint Michael. (And it was also here, in a galaxy far, far away, that Luke Skywalker reemerges in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.) Tracing the monks' path, Chazelle rode a fishing boat through choppy waters and climbed the steep stone path to the top of the island's cliffs. Here, she surveyed the monastic huts against a windswept backdrop of empty sky and water, astonished. "It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen," she says. "The fact that these monks chose to go there, to spend their lives in these unbelievably austere conditions — I was fascinated by that." At that moment, the medieval world gripped her imagination and wouldn't Previous page: Christ flanked by angels. Medieval theologians believe the figures in the corners are from top L, clockwise: Mark, John, Luke, and Matthew.

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