The Rossano Gospels, also known as the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis, is among the most important illuminated manuscripts to have survived from the sixth century and is one of the oldest manuscripts to have been penned in silver on purple-dyed parchment. The surviving paintings, significant examples of the early Byzantine style, feature a series of scenes from the life and passion of Christ.
The Rossano Gospels is an important witness to the Greek text of the Gospels. The manuscript is unfortunately incomplete, with over half of the original text—possibly a second volume—now lost. In its current state, the codex includes some prefatory material, the complete Gospel of Matthew, and most of the Gospel of Mark. Its origin is disputed among scholars; Syria or Palestine have been suggested.
The Finest Example of Early Byzantine Art
The art of the Rossano Gospels may reflect familiarity with models in other media, especially wall painting. The Gospel book now has fourteen illuminated pages—three full-page miniatures, as well as a frontispiece to the now lost canon tables and ten paintings that occupy the top third of pages otherwise occupied by images of Old Testament authors holding inscribed scrolls. The book originally would have included additional narrative scenes, portraits of the other three Evangelists, and ornate canon tables.
Writing in Glittering Silver
The Rossano Gospels is a particularly luxurious codex for its writing in large Greek majuscule script in silver on purple-dyed parchment, which ranges in hue from a deep purple to a reddish-brown.
A Precious Survival
The manuscript was discovered in the sacristy of Rossano Cathedral in 1846, but its earlier history is unknown, including its specific place of origin. It is now in the Museo dell’Arcivescovado of Rossano. In 2015, the Rossano Gospels was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.