Friday, December 27, 2013

The Leo Bible

Beatae Virginis Mariae Sacrae Scripturae librum a Leoni Patricio accipientis et Iesu Christi pictura (2v)
From  Biblia. Vetus Testamentum 
Illustrated manuscript
10th century
The Vatican Library, Rome

In the late  9th century or early tenth century AD,  Leo, patrikios, praepositos (grand chamberlain and highest-ranking eunuch) and imperial sakellarios (treasurer) commissioned an illustrated Greek Bible ("The Leo Bible")

The work now in the Vatican Library is the earliest surviving illustrated Byzantine Bible (Rome, Vatican, Bib. Apostolica, MS. Reg. gr. 1)

All the illustrations in the Bible are now on line: a work of collaboration between the Vatican Library and a private foundation, the Polonsky Foundation (as well as the Bodleian)

In the first illustration Leo the patrician is shown offering his work to the Theotokos, the Virgin

Icon-like she is shown pointing the way to her Son or is she beckoning her Son to Leo. She, like all icons, is through prayer and meditation, the gateway to the divine, her Son, the Saviour

It was only in the middle of the ninth century AD that the anti-image movement of the iconoclasts had been defeated

There had in fact been two main iconoclastic uprisings: the first was in 713-87; the second in 813-42. In both cases one Emperor had attempted what he saw as vital Church reform as a result of a strict literal interpretation of the Second Commandment. 

In both cases after the emperor had died, the successors reinstated the icons. During the times of iconclasis, the icons were put into hiding where they were guarded in silence. It was popular piety which which was the impetus for their restoration

Leo speaks to the Virgin through his dedicatory preface on the page.

The Theotokos is silent and merely gestures

He is elderly, white haired and beardless and  realises that for him his time on earth is coming to an end and without issue

He  offers the written Word of God to the progenitor of the Word who without sound points the way to the Lord, the Living Word

By the seventh and eighth centuries, the Dormition of the Virgin and her glorification by her Son had been firmly established in the Byzantine Church and elsewhere

In the Doctrine, what was important was the news that one of our own kind—the Theotokos, the source of the Saviour’s humanity—herself already shared, after death, in the glorious life of the risen Christ, and that Christ had appointed her as our patron to help us navigate the same journey

Here  we see Mary as patron, chief of all saints, intercessor for humanity with her Son

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