Codex Purpureus Rossanensis – Symbol of an Age

The Codex Purpureus Rossanensis is one of the most ancient and marvelous extant codices purpurei. Recently restored, it is a monumental awe-inspiring masterpiece.

The Codex Purpureus Rossanensis, also known as the Rossano Gospels, was made about 15 centuries ago and it is one of the three oldest surviving manuscripts penned in golden ink on purple parchment. This manuscript, now featuring “only” 386 pages, previously contained over 800 pages, all decorated with silver and gold majuscules. Albeit partly irremediably lost, this codex still holds a power on its beholders leaving them in awe.

Double-page opening of the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis
Double-page opening of the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis

Guglielmo Cavallo states:

The Codex Rossano represents something bigger than a simple manuscript, for it has become the symbol of an age, of a culture, of a way of thinking.


Much about this manuscript remains unknown, for example, its dating. I previously stated that it was made about 15 centuries ago, but, to be completely honest, there is no element that can help us establish when exactly it was made. Of some help are the characteristic features of the manuscript – such as the monumentality and the high level of craftsmanship – which can be associated to a broad period which stretches from the late 4th to the early 7th century.

Double-page opening of the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis
Double-page opening of the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis
A manuscript of great opulence

A question comes to mind. Where and how does this lavishly illuminated manuscript fit in book production of late antiquity? What was its role? Well, we know that Late Antiquity is marked by a great variety of books, different in types and functions.

For a long time it was believed that the state of the manuscript was the result of a deterioration due to prolonged exposition during liturgies, however, Guglielmo Cavallo (1987:32), who does not exclude the theory altogether, does not share the view, for the manuscript bears no sign of real liturgical use, such as the marks at the beginning and at the end of the pericopes.

Be that as it may, the precarious state in which the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis has reached modern times has lead to a significant work of restoration. As a result, a few years ago,  the manuscript was moved from its home, the Museo Diocesano di Arte Sacra in Rossano, to the Istituto di Conservazione e Restauro del Patrimonio Archivistico e Librario di Roma.

The news went mainstream on national tv!

I am glad to say that the Rossano Gopels has made its return home last year, to the delight of its owners and of art enthusiasts in general, who can now view the masterpiece in all its glory.

Of course, being this manuscript such a rare example of purple parchment manuscript, it does not come as a surprise that a facsimile edition was made. Furthermore, we have shot a high-quality video of the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis facsimile edition, so that you can have the chance to see what a masterpiece looks like!

So what are you waiting for? Find out more about this beautiful manuscript and its facsimile editions!