Northumbrian bible from 8th century (by Rob)

Lindisfarne Gospels

If I mention the Lindisfarne Gospels in the north east of England, most people know what I am talking about.     It is the beautifully illustrated book containing the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John which was made by the monks of the Lindisfarne monastery in the 8th century.

Far less of us will know about another equally important book which was produced nearby at the same time, the Codex Amiatinus. The Codex Amiatinus is the oldest complete surviving copy of the Vulgate Bible.    Today, it is held in the Laurentian Library, in Florence, Italy but it is the work of the 8th century monks at the joint monasteries of Jarrow and Monkwearmoth in what was then the kingdom of Northumbria.

The two monasteries in the north east of England were founded by a monk called Benedict Biscop.  When he was a young man, he had travelled to Rome to study the Christian faith, with his friend who was later to be known as St. Wilfred.     In AD 674 King Ecgfrith of Northumbria gave Biscop seventy hides of land on the north side of the river Wear at Monkwearmouth so he could make a start in building a monastery there.     He then went on to build a second one, on the south side of the river Tyne at Jarrow.     He was of noble birth and had wealthy backers.     Unlike most Anglo Saxon monasteries of that time, which were built of wood,   his were of carefully worked stone in the Roman style.

Saxon window in St Pauls, Jarrow. Original glass.

He employed continental stonemasons and coloured glass workers to assist in the work.  Both of the joint monasteries were well endowed with important Christian manuscripts which he had collected in his visits to Italy.

Jarrow & Wearmouth map

In AD 679 Biscop took another trip to Italy, this time with Abbot Ceolfrith, of Jarrow.    They obtained a copy of the Codex Grandior a complete version of the Latin Vulgate Bible which they brought back to Northumbria.

In AD 692, Abbot Ceolfrith began the huge task of producing three copies of the Codex Grandior.     This was about the time where the twin monasteries were given enough land to rear the 2,000 cattle needed to produce enough vellum.  Each of the copies contained 1029 double leaves made from calfskin and weighed over 75 lb.       Scholars believe that the well equipped monastic community used seven different highly trained scribes to complete the work.  The pages were beautifully written out in Latin using clear, large Uncial script.

Benedict Biscop

When the three copies of the Codex Grandior were complete, each of them contained all of the books of Jerome’s Vulgate with the exception of Baruch.  Abbot Ceolfrith gave one to Monkwearmouth and a second to Jarrow.    The remaining one he kept himself so he could take it to Rome, as a present to Pope Gregory II.

In June AD 716, Abbot Ceolfrith, at the age of 74   retired from his post and set out for Rome.   Sadly, he never arrived at his destination, for when he was crossing France he died on the 25th September at Langres monastery in Burgundy.    The faithful Northumbrian monks who were accompanying him took his Bible to Rome and presented it to the Pope on his behalf.

It is not understood why, but the Northumbrian bible was in the possession of the monastery at Monte Amiata in Tuscany from the 9th century until its closure in 1792:  Hence it name, Codex Amiatinus.  After that it was taken to its present location in Florence

A further mystery was that,   centuries ago, the dedication page had been altered and it was only in recent times identified as Ceolfrith’s gift to   Pope Gregory II.  For centuries, it had been believed to be Italian.  The forged amendments are clearly apparent; especially the fifth line which reads “Peter of the Lombards” after “Ceolfrith of the English” had been erased.  The true dedication was verified using ultra-violet light.

Today the original manuscript has been unbound by experts in Florence in order to produce a limited edition number of smaller replica copies, one of which is now on display in the north east of England at the Sunderland (City Library and Arts Centre).   This is to celebrate the adoption of Benedict Biscop as Patron Saint of the City of Sunderland.

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St Brendan the Navigator

St Brendan the Navigator

In July 2010 Rob and I flew off on a great adventure, following Brendan! But we travelled the northern arc route in the secure comfort of modern aircraft from Newcastle upon Tyne; via Amsterdam to Portland Oregon.

St. Brendan (Brendan the Navigator or Brendan the Voyager) was born in Ireland in 484. He was a Celtic monk who travelled far and wide in the 6th century, possibly even following the same northern arc route to North America from Ireland. In 512 Brendan was ordained to the priesthood; between the years 512 and 530 he built monastic cells at Ardfert, at Shanakeel or Baalynevinoorach, in County Kerry and at the foot of ‘Brandon’ Hill. It was from here that he set out on his most famous voyage.

'The Brendan Voyage', cover of Tim Severin's book

The accounts of his voyages were well known in past times, but many are inclined to think it was all myth and make-believe.

But his voyage from Ireland to the North Americas has been reconstructed by British navigation scholar, Tim Severin, in 1976.  He had meticulously worked to make sure that the leather skinned boat he had made was, for all intents and purposes, identical to the ‘mythological’ boat, described in the 11th century book, ‘Navigatio’,  in which St. Brendan and the Irish monks crossed the North Atlantic centuries before the Vikings. He proved it could be done.

Severin sailed this boat from Ireland to Newfoundland via Iceland and Greenland, demonstrating the accuracy of its directions and descriptions of the places Brendan mentioned in his epic, and proving that a small boat could have sailed from Ireland to North America.

His book  “The Brendan Voyage” is fascinating.

Many places still carry the name of Brendan, or Brandon

(another form of the same name)

A pictorial map of Brandon Hill Bristol

Rob and I had both lived in and around Bristol, in South West England, for many years till we moved to the North East. It was a very important seaport, the estuary of the River Avon,  especially for those heading for the “new World” across the Atlantic Ocean. As John Cabot left on his New World voyages of discovery, in 1497 he would pass Brandon Hill, named after St. Brendan. Before the Reformation, there was a shrine on top and the sailors would actually pray to St. Brendan for protection instead of praying to the God that St. Brendan served. That is why the shrine was removed after the Reformation, though the hill still bears the same name.

Back to Brendan: On the Irish Kerry coast, he built a curragh, or large coracle, of wattle, covered it with hides tanned in oak bark softened with butter, set up a mast and a sail, and after a prayer upon the shore he and his company of monks  set off into the unknown, guided by their faith in God.

This is the prayer that is believed to have been said by Brendan on that shore

Saint Brendan’s Prayer:

Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home?

Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?

Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honour?

Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword and shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on?

Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?

Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks?

Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?

Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict?

Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean?

O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?

For seven years they voyaged to find the Promised Land of the saints, and amazing stories are told of his wanderings in the ‘Navigatio’ and other documents. Eventually they reached the “Terra Repromissionis”, the Paradise or Promised Land, a most beautiful island with luxuriant vegetation.

Maybe the Irish can claim they discovered America?

This claim rests in part on the account of the Vikings who found a region south of the Chesapeake Bay, which is a large estuary in the United States. It lies off the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. It was called “Irland ed mikla”(Greater Ireland),

Chi-Rho (Name of Christ)

and on stone carvings discovered in West Virginia dated between 500 and 1000 A.D.  Analyses by experts indicate that these carvings are written in Old Irish using the Ogham alphabet. According to them, “the West Virginia Ogham texts are the oldest Ogham inscriptions anywhere in the world. They exhibit the grammar and vocabulary of Old Irish in a manner previously unknown in such early rock-cut inscriptions in any Celtic language….. Early Christian symbols such as Chi-Rho monograms (Name of Christ) and the Dextra Dei (Right Hand of God) appear at the sites together with the Ogham texts.”

The Irish monks were renowned as sea-farers centuries before Columbus. Tradition says that they reached Iceland and explored even farther afield in the Atlantic. Some scholars who long doubted that the voyage described by Brendan could have made it to North America have reconsidered their position based on the research and pilgrimage of Tim Severin.

After many years of seafaring Brendan at last returned to Ireland.  Brendan also founded a monastery at Inis-da-druim (now Coney Island, County Clare), about the year 550. He journeyed to Wales, and later to the Scottish Island of Iona, and was a disciple of St. Finian. After three years in Britain he returned to Ireland and did much good work in various parts of the land. The great mountain that juts out into the Atlantic in County Kerry is called Mount Brandon, because he built a little chapel atop it, and the bay at the foot of the mountain is Brandon Bay. He founded many churches and other Christian communities but his most famous, founded in  557, is Clonfert in Galway. This huge monastery housed 3,000 monks, whose rule of life  was very austere, and also included a convent for women initially placed under the charge of his sister, St. Briga.

Brendan died at Enach Duin, now called Annaghdown, in 577, on a visit to his sister while she was abbess of a convent there. Despite a life of exceeding piety and many dangerous travels, he had great anxiety about the last journey of death. His dying words to Briga are reported to have been: “I fear that I shall journey alone, that the way will be dark; I fear the unknown land, the presence of my King and the sentence of my judge.”

Brendan’s feast day is celebrated on May 16.

"Santa Maria" on Spanish postage stamp

It is well established that Columbus went to look for St. Brendan’s Isle when he discovered the West Indies. As a student of the University of Pavia, Columbus would have learned of Brendan’s voyage from the manuscripts brought there, seven hundred years previously, by Dugal, student and founder of the University of Pavia.

On the eve of his great voyage aboard the Santa Maria in 1492 he wrote: “I am convinced that the terrestrial paradise is in the Island of Saint Brendan, which none can reach save by the Will of God.

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Reading in the dark

My dear mum was moving house so I went along to help her sort out and pack her clothes.

We left my husband, Rob, who is blind, downstairs happily reading a Braille book.

braille book

When we finally came down from her bedroom it had got quite dark, so she switched on the light saying to Rob, “You will ruin your eyes reading in the dark you know”.

She has never been able to live that down, especially as she said exactly the same thing to him a few weeks later!

It is actually a compliment as we all forget he is blind.

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The Genie In A Bottle

One day a man was stolling down a sunny beach and he spied a funny looking bottle lying in the sand.
Curious, he picked up the bottle and rubbed it with his sleeve to clean it off…and POOF! out came a genie!
“I am the genie of the bottle, your wish is my command. You get one wish, what would you like…?”

“Only one wish?” said the man, “I thought genies always gave three wishes?”

“Shut up, you get one wish, now what do you want!”

The man thought for a few moments…”I know”, he said,

“I have a business conference coming up in America next month and I am scared to death of flying,

and I don’t have time to take a ship… so, I want a bridge from the England to the USA.”

“What?!” are you nuts?!” said the genie, “Do you know how far that is… and how many pylons… that ocean is almost four miles deep in some places…!”
“Oh great!” said the man, “I finally find a genie and he can’t even grant my wish!”
“Hold it, hold it, just hold on! I didn’t say I couldn’t or wouldn’t do it, it’s just so incredibly difficult.
Just out of curiosity, of course…
you wouldn’t happen to have a different request you might like instead… you know… money… fame…?
The man thought for a few more moments…”Oh! I know” the man said.
“Yes?” replied the genie,
“I want to be able to understand women… how they think and why they feel they way they do.
The genie responds, “Will that be two lanes or four lanes you want on that bridge!?”
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Etch-A-Sketch Technical Support

Q: My Etch-A-Sketch has a distorted display.
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: My Etch-A-Sketch has all of these funny little lines all over the screen.
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: How do I turn my Etch-A-Sketch off?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: What’s the shortcut for Undo?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: How do I create an empty New Document window?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: How do I Exit without Saving?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: How do I set the background and foreground to the same color?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: What is the proper procedure for rebooting my Etch-A-Sketch?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: My Etch-A-Sketch has lines that prevent me from doing my art project.
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: How do I delete a document on my Etch-A-Sketch?
A: Pick it up and shake it.

Q: How do I keep from losing my Etch-A-Sketch documents in the middle of my work?
A: Stop shaking it.

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Said to be from an actual court case…

“Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?”


“Did you check for blood pressure?”


“Did you check for breathing?”


“So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?”


“How can you be so sure, Doctor?”

“Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.”

“But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?”

“It is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.”

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Forgetful friend

A friend in the USA sent me this one:

There was an unexpected knock on my door, and like I
always do I first opened the peephole and asked, “Who’s

“Parcel post, ma’am. I have a package that needs a
“Where’s the package?” I asked suspiciously.  The deliveryman held it up.

“Could I see some ID?” I said, still not convinced.
“Lady,” he replied wearily, “if I wanted to break into your house, I’d probably just use these.” And he pulled out the keys I had left in the door.

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Text message from ???

When Rob and I met online, then in person, we gradually fell in love and became engaged. We may have been getting on in years, but love is still the same and we were determined not to give in to temptation and live together before we were married.

So, we prayed and asked God to keep us safe while we were courting.

We lived 25 miles apart so I had quite a drive each time I went to see Rob.

A few months later I was visiting Rob in his home, we had been watching something on television when I looked at my watch and said “I really should drive home now, it is getting late”. He started kissing me ‘goodnight’ and we were really  enjoying a good cuddle when suddenly  we were startled by my mobile phone going ‘beep beep’, signifying an incoming text message.

I read it out to Rob as it was from a friend of his, a young man with learning difficulties. It simply said “Jesus is watching you”. We fell off that sofa, not knowing whether to laugh or be afraid as the cuddling was certainly getting fierier by the minute!!

The next day Rob rang to say he had asked his friend why he had sent the text. His friend seemed puzzled and confused, he replied “I don’t know, it just suddenly popped into my head to send my friend Rob’s lady friend a nice message, was she cross?” Rob assured him we were not annoyed with him at all.

Memo to self: Expect answers to prayers in ways we cannot begin to guess!

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A man bought a donkey from a preacher. The preacher told the man that this donkey had been trained in a very unique way, (being the donkey of a preacher).  The only way to make the donkey go, is to say,  “Hallelujah!” The only way to make the donkey stop, is to say, “Amen!”
The man was pleased with his purchase and immediately got on the animal to try out the preacher’s instructions.
“Hallelujah!” shouted the man. The donkey began to trot. “Amen!” shouted the man. The donkey stopped immediately.
“This is great!” said the man. With a “Hallelujah”, he rode off very proudof his new purchase.
The man travelled for a long time through some mountains. Soon he was heading towards a cliff. He could not remember the word to make the donkey stop.
“Stop,” said the man. “Halt!” he cried. The donkey just kept going. “Oh, no… Bible…Church!…Please Stop!!,” shouted the man.
The donkey just began to trot faster. He was getting closer and closer to the cliff edge.
Finally, in desperation, the man said a prayer…”Please, dear Lord. Please make this donkey stop before I go off the end of this mountain, In Jesus name, AMEN.”
The donkey came to an abrupt stop just one step from the edge of the cliff.
“HALLELUJAH!”, shouted the man.

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The Lesson


Then Jesus took His disciples up the mountain, and gathering them
around Him, He taught them saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of

Blessed are the meek.

Blessed are they that mourn.

Blessed are the merciful.

Blessed are the they who search for justice.

Blessed are you who suffer.

Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven.

Remember what I am telling you.”

Then Simon Peter said, “Do we have to write this down?”

And Andrew said, “Are we supposed to know this stuff?”

And James said, “Will we have a test on it?”

And Phillip said, “Can I borrow a pencil?”

And Bartholomew said, “Do we have to turn this in?”

And John said, “The other disciples didn’t have to learn this!”

And Matthew said, “When do we get out of here?”

And Judas said, “What does this have to do with the real world?”

And the other disciples likewise.

Then one of the pharisees who were present asked to see Jesus’
lesson plan and inquired of Jesus His terminal objectives in the
cognitive domain.

And Jesus wept…

=== end of story ===

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