Historical synthesis

The first signs of  Christianity in ancient Sibaritide date back to the beginnings of the II Century. 
From Thurii, in fact, a Panellenica colony  founded by Athens at the site of opulent Sybaris, came San Telesforo, Bishop of Rome and Pope from 125 to 136.
In official documents from the Vth century Thurii appeared as a diocese. According to the archaeologist  Paolo Bears, it was already a  diocese at the end of the IV century, as one deduces from a tombstone fragment found again in the monastery of Hadrian in San Demetrio Corone.

After 680 we do not have news of this diocese any more. Between the end of VII and the beginnings of the VIII Century Thurii  Bishops decided to move elsewhere, because of the continuos raids and attacks on the town.  Following the conquest of the town  by the Saracen enemy, Bishops were forced to break off relationships with the papal town.
This moment  marked the beginning of the decadence of Thurii in favor of the town of Rossano which is, so, projected towards a political and religious role which allows it, in a short space of time, to affirm itself as the religious and political capital of the area. Some local historians of the last century and the XIXth Century support the theory that the diocese of Rossano had had its origin in 625 and hence, coincided with the arrival of the Codex Purpureus  in the town. 

More credited is the hypothesis that the diocese of Rossano was born in the next century, when the town started being an important civil, administrative and military  center. It’s in this period that  a Pope “ Rossanese” (from Rossano)is nominated with the name of Giovanni VII, Pontiff from 705 to 707. It’s charming to believe the hypothesis that the transfer from the Thurii seat to that of Rossano is to be attributed to the Holy Father, native of Rossano. More plausible, however, that the transfer from Thurii to Rossano, in the moment of his political and cultural acme, was determined by the political, administrative and religious tidying up started by the Byzantines.
In the  Xth Century Rossano  is already an established Byzantine cultural center. As a consequence of the invasion of Reggio Calabria by the Saracens, the Regional Capital moves to the small town of the High Ionia to become, from that moment on, the most important  Byzantine center of Calabria, with the consequent enrichment of the town with public clerks and officials.
These are the years of Giovanni Filagato, later known as the antipope that, thanks to his cultural expertise, becomes  Imperial Chancellor to Ottone II and tutor to Ottone III and his Grandson Brunone (the future Pope Gregory Vth) .
Outstanding representative of the Hebrew culture of the High Middle Ages is the epoch of Shabbettai Donnolo, doctor, pharmacologist and astrologer. Author of treaties in the Hebrew language, he is an illustrious example of the spirituality and culture  which was breathed in the town. He was also an excellent calligrapher and scholar of the Holy Writings and the life of the desert fathers was among the first to have written medical texts in Medieval Europe, in the role of doctor to the court of the governor of  Byzantine, as San Nilo bestowed upon him.
Emblematic testimonies of the Byzantine Rossano, preserved up to the present time in the town, are, in the first place, the icon of Achiropita, of which the impressive cult is signalled by the Rossanese,  Byzantine community of San Marco and of Panaghia, inside which are some frescos of great value, and the famous Codex Purpureus are found.

Codex Purpureus Rossanensis

Bibliographic data

The Codex purpureus Rossanensis, which has counted itself since time immemorial among the goods of the cathedral and of the town archbishopric, has been kept since October 18th, 1952 near the Diocesan Holy Art Museum. Mentioned for the first time in 1831 by Scipio Camporota, Canon of the cathedral ,  was brought to the awareness of the national chronicles in 1846 by the writer Cesare Malpica in his book entitled "Impressions; Tuscany, Umbria and the Greek Empire". In 1880 the German scholars Oskar von Gebhardt and Adolf von Harnach published in Leipzig the writing "Evangeliorum Codex Graecus Purpureus Rossanensis", bringing the Codex to the attention of the European and International scholars.

Philologic problems

Several studies and and research of significant scientific importance, for more than one century, have been asking  experts of biblical philology, engaging historians, paleographers, Byzantine art scholars, the solution of two philologic problems:
- where Codex was realized and when?
- when and from whom was it taken to Rossano?
As regards to the first question, the theory which finds most credit  is that the adespoto manuscript is the work of a writer from the Orient. On the precise location of this center, city or country, still,  there is not a unanimous opinion between the researchers. Some are of the opinion that the originating place is Antiochia in Syria, or a city of  Asia Minor such as Cappadocia or Efeso. Others think of Alessandria in Egypt, Others still choose Constantinople.
Almost all the above-mentioned researchers agree in dating the code about the middle of the century VIth Century AD. The professor  Fernanda de Maffei  of the University Of Rome claimed, with a series of studies and research made between 1974 and 1978, that the Rossanensis  was realized in Caesarean,  Palestine and the date of draft is to be anticipated to the first half of the Vth century. As far as we know, this last study is what is appreciated and recognized  as valid and likely for what concerns the realization and the dating.
As regards the modality problem and  time of arrival of the Codex, most scholars claim that the people who brought the Codex to Rossano were the Iconoduli monks who migrated from the South East of Italy, therefore also in Calabria, to escape to the iconoclastic hatred of the Byzantines during the middle of the VIIIth Century.

One of these monks' communities established in one of the many rocky monasteries , formed by grottos  of the lauritico type, which form the "holy mountain" of the jonica town.

Codex and the Greek-Oriental rite

Almost certainly the Codex was used during  mass, since the diocese of Rossano was strongly bound to the rite of Greek language, practised up to about  1462, despite the fact that everywhere else was already using Latin.
After the schism of the Eastern Church, in fact, The Normans gained control of Southern Italy, taking back the Calabrian dioceses under the jurisdiction of Rome and starting the language and structures latinization . Rossano, where the culture and the Greek tradition were more deep-rooted, reacted against this politics and obtained that the maintenance of the Greek rite was granted to the city. Earl Roger, considered the delicate political situation  and, at the same time, to ingratiate with clergy and population, Rossano  was raised to the rank of archdiocese (1085), asking as a counter-item for the passage under the jurisdiction of Rome and, therefore, the Latin rite, supported strongly by the archbishop of Reggio Calabria, Mons. Saracen Matteo. In this phase, inevitably, the Greek texts fell into oblivion and were registered. In an inventory of 18th Century one talks about about thirty books written in Greek and kept in the cathedral sacristy. The progressive disinterest and  forgetfulness, owing to the liturgic text disuse, led, probably, to the loss or  destruction of most of them, including the Gospels of John and Luke, of which Codex is a part.

The precious Greek manuscript model Codex

During the period in which the Greek rite was at its height, it is likely that the Rossanensis  affected the writing activity testified in the town starting from the IXth and Xth Century . There are, in fact, handwritten Greek both in upper-case letters and lower case letters,  scattered al over the world, which seem to have been written in-place in the IX-X Centuries. The presence of a few manuscripts in Calabria, come to the equal of the Codex Purpureus from the East, maybe also kept in Rossano, between which a few sheets of a code of Cassius Dione of the Vth century, Vat. Gm. 1288, may have been the source of inspiration for the amanuensis monks who in Rossano would have continued the activity of transcription of the holy texts.
The writing activity, of which also the patron saint of the small town of Rossano, San Nilo, was an active supporter, together with the successive foundation, in Rossano, of the Abbey of Patir, if they produced themselves, read themselves and manuscripts were preserved starting from the XIth century, guarantees the hypothesis that the Greek manuscripts coming from the East, between which the Codex Purpureus, present and active amanuenses inspired and provided models to the monks in Rossano.
It is not a case that San Nilo (910-1004), had been of the order of the monks basiliani, as those which, according to the historical reconstructions, would have arrived in Rossano. It has to be pointed out, besides, that a plentiful series of codes, kept in the most prestigious libraries of Europe, come from scriptorium of San Bartolomeo of Simeri (1130), Santa Maria Nuova Odigitria Abbey founder ( or of   suffer )   in the last decades of the XII  century, the period of the biggest creativity and  production.  All this inserts itself in the climate of intense cultural, artistic and religious fervour sprung from the presence of the Purple Code In Rossano and of the Basilani monks.

Description of Codex

The Codex Purpureus Rossanensis  is one of the most ancient religious texts existing in the world, made even more precious thanks to its miniatures.  Only one in its kind,it offers its miniatures in a continuum  exclusively view, like a series of frescos on the walls of an ancient Christian basilica, of which  remain examples of the period between the IVth  and the VIth  Century. It has the remains of an independent cycle of miniatures concerning Christ's life, the oldest existing Greek manuscript.
It is one of the masterpieces of  evangelic literature.  The total  manuscripts structure was a model, in one or two volumes, of the four Gospels, preceded by the index  capitula. It is possible to say that the preserved part represents about half of the whole work.
That of Mark is formed by 188 sheets (376 pages) containing the whole  Gospel of Matthew and almost everything, latter of vv. 14-20 conclusive of the last chapter.
The current format of the manuscript measures  mm 300x250; the script mirror is of mm 215x215 .
The pages are of intricately made parchment , of purple colour, with discromie which, sometimes, can consider themselves as original but, in several cases, due to various factors, above all damp.
The manuscript is formed as a rule from quinioni, that is files of 10 sheets, begun mewith side, arranged according to the Gregory law (meat against meat and hair against hair) and marked in the internal lower angle on the recto  of the first sheet. Pp remain excluded by this structure. 1-18, what introductory parts, and pp are. 239-242, containing to p. 241 the portrait of Mark. The typology and the system of file numeration are typical of late antiquity. They are displayed again in a few handmade articles, as in the so-called one about discords produced in Vienna in 512AD.
Writing columns measure each mm.215x90 ca. with inter column space of mm 35 ca. and contain 20 lines.
The Codex Purpureus Rossanensis  is in the international list of the ecclesiastical rare manuscripts, takes the alphabetical И suffix and the number 43. The " Codex Purpureus Rossanensis Σ ”  is also well-known as the  Rossanensis . It owes the name "Purpureus" to the fact that the pages are of a purple colour.
The writing in which the Gospel text is written is biblical upper-case , it is graphic forms which distinguish themselves starting from the late IInd century .AD, already defining themselves in precise rules in the III one and resisting in writing practices until the IX century, both also with internal, geographic and chronological differentiations. In the code of Rossano the biblical artful characters show upper-case letters, monumental form, strong chiaroscuro and decorative tinsels which show, on one side, the slow chronological arrangement, from the other one the function ideologico-sacrale subtended to it. The writing of the letter of Eusebius In Carpiano is also in upper-case Biblical, but structurally hierarchically lower: it shows, in fact, little form, moderate chiaroscuro, quite sober drawing. Depending on true and real distinctive writing, the straight ogival upper-case letter is used, instead, in which inscriptions concerning the iconographic repertoire were striped, you call some capitula, colofone of the Gospel of  Matthew , the references to the canons eusebiani, the indications of content in the superior margins, a few integrations, the letters/digits of file marking. One is, once more, an ancient but definite ancestors writing more newly, big way in the century v, and testified in the Byzantine world most for long, until the XI century, by the biblical upper-case letter. Such writings must be considered as work of the same hand. The upper-case letter used to p has to be, finally, signalled. 241, in the portrait of Mark, for the caption and on the roll than the evangelist he is writing: it is an upper-case letter that is very elementary, simple and from the all artificial character that does not find checking in handmade articles nor late antique nor Middle Ages  and late-bizantine. The ink is gold for the title and the three initial lines of the first page of each Gospel, and silver for all the rest.
Fourteen Miniatures are preserved in the code of Rossano . Of them, twelve are of Christ's life events illustrating (  the Lazarus resurrection, Jesus's entry in Jerusalem, the talk with the priests and the banishment of the merchants from the temple, the parabola of the ten virgins, the last supper and the washing of the feet, the communion of the apostles, Christ in Getsemani, the recovery of the blind , the good Samaritan's parabola, the process of Christ in front of Pilate, the choice between Jesus and Barabbas  ), one do from title to the lost gone canon tables, and the last one is a portrait of Mark, which occupies the whole page. All the miniatures were painted on a less fine parchment than the one used for the Gospel text; a purple colour different from the one used for the pages destined to the text was applied to it. The thickest parchment was used for the colours with a more solid basis, while the most opaque colour  prevented the miniature painted on the façade of a sheet to be seen turned over on the other side. It is structured so that miniatures and text are assembled in distinct sheets that are grouped together.
The Codex Purpureus Rossanensis  represents an extraordinary document that is interesting from many points of view, biblical and religious, both artistic, paleographic and historical, and also documentary.The document  is symbolic of the whole region, Calabria, which has mediated and translated between the Greek-Oriental and the the Latin-Western civilizations.