A very special book set off from Sunderland's St Peter's Church today - with a helping hand from a real-life Bede.
The world’s oldest surviving Bible - known as the 'Codex Amiatinus' - was transcribed and illuminated at the Wearmouth Jarrow monastery and left St Peter's Church for Rome as a gift from Abbot Ceolfrith to Pope Gregory II 1,300 years ago to the day.
Now a Children’s Codex, transcribed and illuminated by the young people of Sunderland and Jarrow, has set off on the same journey to be presented to Pope Francis at the Vatican later this year.
Every school in Sunderland and Jarrow was invited to take part in the project, co-ordinated by St Peter’s Educational Activities for Kids (Speak) as part of the Codex Amiatinus 1300 commemoration programme.
Each of the 140 schools which contributed was given a template to follow, reflecting the size and design of pages, with a unique biblical reference for pupils to base their writing and designs on.
The results of their combined creative talents have been bound into four volumes, three to be left on display in their respective communities and one to follow in the footsteps of the original literary pilgrimage to Rome .
And it set off from St Peter's today, entrusted by the children to Jarrow-born student Bede Porter for the first stage of its journey. Bede boarded a boat at Sunderland Marina and took the codex across the river to the Quayside Exchange building, where it went on display as part of a history fair run by Sunderland Heritage Forum.
"I was really honoured to be asked to take part," he said.
"It is fantastic to be involved and a great opportunity."
As 1,300 years ago, the Children’s Codex began its journey at St Paul’s in Jarrow where it was presented to the congregation before being carried along the same route between the twin monasteries to St Peter’s, where it was blessed by the Bishop of Jarrow, the Right Reverend Mark Bryant.
The project is funded by Sunderland City Council’s North Area Committee and Big Local Central Jarrow Community Fund, and delivered by Sunderland City and South Tyneside Councils. Mayor of Sunderland Coun Alan Emerson, Mayor of South Tyneside Coun Alan Smith, and High Sheriff of Tyne and Wear John Mowbray OBE joined the congregation today.
"It is amazing and humbling to think that thirteen hundred years to the day, the Codex Amianitus left St Peter’s Church to begin on the long pilgrimage to Rome to be presented to the Pope," said Coun Emerson.
"It reinforced Wearmouth-Jarrow at the centre of Christian scholarship and learning, and at the heart of medieval culture and society
"The ‘Children’s Codex’ now retracing that journey, reflects the creative talents and aspirations of the young people living here now."
Providing music at the service were members of Fulwell Junior Primary school, dressed as medieval Monks and adding atmosphere to the occasion by singing the specially-commissioned ‘Ceolfrith’s Journey’ which musically recounts the pilgrimage.
The Codex begins its journey to Rome on Wednesday. Train operator Grand Central has donated tickets for six children representing all the schools taking part on its 8.42am service from Sunderland to King’s Cross. The delegation will travel to Lambeth Palace, where the Children’s Codex is to be signed and blessed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, in readiness for its journey to the Vatican in Rome later this year.
Graham Nicol, from Speak, said: "This venture has touched thousands of local children and young people in so many ways, from Nursery schools to Secondary schools.
"Not only have they all discovered the incredible heritage and history of their city, but many have looked at the bible in a new light. As a city and a community we can celebrate that the world’s oldest surviving bible which was created at the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow, and 1,300 years later to the day come together in pride at the achievement.”