The atlantic bibles

The ecclesiastical reform of the second half of the 11th century has bequeathed to us a category of massive and majestic books: the Atlantic Bibles.

Pietro Toesca (Toesca P., La pittura e la miniatura nella Lombardia. Dai più antichi monumenti alla metà del Quattrocento, Turin, 1912) was the first, at the beginning of the 20th century, to describe these manuscripts as Atlantic Bibles, on the basis of their dimensions.

About one hundred have been listed up to now. They are manuscripts in a giant format (averaging 550x 350 mm), produced between the middle of the 11th and the second half of the 12th century in central Italy.


Comparison of dimensions:
Geneva Atlantic Bible, p. 94 r, 610 x 394 mm;
A4 format, 297x210 mm (ISO 216 : 1975).



Leaving aside their giant size, which, while striking, is certainly not their sole characteristic, the absolutely unique characteristic of the Atlantic Bibles is their homogenous aspect and execution. These Bibles were produced in a very uniform Carolingian minuscule and present a specific iconographic ensemble, characterized by initials in geometric style placed at the beginning of each book of the Bible. They contain the complete text of the Vulgate.

The giant format, physical execution and textual recension are all elements which have been conceived for a specific purpose: to make the Atlantic Bibles both the physical and the ideological symbol of the movement of religious renewal promoted by the Roman Catholic Church. The production of Atlantic Bibles provides us with an emblematic example of the way in which the definition of a particular book typology reveals very specific political and ideological needs. Their study consequently proves to be fundamental for an understanding of all aspects of the 11th century, an epoch of great changes in the history of Western Christianity.