Treasures from Eastern Europe: The Codices of Albania

02 July 2020

The codices of Albania are monuments of Christian culture and civilization and bear the stamp of the biblical-ecumenical space in which Albanians and their ancestors lived.

The codices are a source of pride for bibliographers, scholars of scripture and church, but also a subject of study for history, ethno-psychology, language and writing technique, calligraphy, applied figurative arts and iconography.

The former Director-General of UNESCO, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, stated in the publication “Codices of Albania”[1] that the documentary heritage illustrates the expression of cultural variability and pluralism, to which UNESCO pays priority attention.

Codex Purpureus Beratinus φ

“Codex Purpureus Beratinus φ” known by the name “Beratinus 1” is the oldest original manuscript preserved in Albania, one of the most important of the early Christian antiquity and one of the earliest manuscripts in the Gospel literature worldwide.  “Beratinus 1” is one of the seven purple codices stored in the world and appears in the register of important works of humanity, created in the framework of the program “Memoire du Monde” (Memory of the World) of UNESCO.

Chronologically it is related to a period no later than the middle of the VIth century, before the Gospel thought was harmonized, but it is not excluded that it might be earlier. It was discovered in Berat, a city in Albania that was considered a center for transcription of holy manuscripts. Nowadays is preserved in a high security room in the General Directorate of Archives in Albania.

The writing is made of dissolved silver and the capital letters are made of gold. The manuscript cover is later than the work, it is metallic and decorated with biblical scenes.

In 1970, under an intergovernmental agreement, it was sent for restoration to the Archaeological Institute of Beijing, where an identical, fully exploitable reproduction was carried out. The original itself was restored, ensuring overcoming the critical condition and promising longevity, through the technique of hermetically sealing the sheets one by one between two organic glass in the void.

Monumental Activities of Human Thought

“Beratinus 1” is valued for the history of writing, for the obvious calligraphic values, as a monument of the world heritage of knowledge, as a scientific object of paleography, bibliology, linguistics and history of beliefs.

Professor Shaban Sinani in his publication “Beratinus”[2] cites that the importance of “Beratinus 1” was emphasized even more by the fact that in the typology of its text there are traces of both Eastern and Western writings. This makes it one of the most important manuscripts to compare schools of evangelical writing and the historical process of canonization of scripture in general.

“Beratinus 1” was first exhibited abroad in 2000 at the Vangeli dei Popoli Jubilee Exhibition, organized by the Vatican’s Biblioteca Apostolica, on the great 2000th anniversary of Christianity.

The codex was completely digitized in November-December 2016 by the General Directorate of Archives of Albania in cooperation with the Library of Congress of the United States of America and was published in the World Digital Library.


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– Aida Veliaj, Albanian University


[1] “Kodikët e Shqipërisë”, scientific-cultural project of the General Directorate of Archives in Albania and UNESCO, ISBN: 99927-915-0-0

[2] “Beratinus”, Prof. Dr. Shaban Sinani, cultural antropology, monography, ISBN: 99943-30-08-X