Italian restoration experts have discovered that a purple dye used in one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts is made from a mix of urine and weeds.
It was previously thought that the purple parchments from the 1,500-year-old book known as the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis were made with an extract from sea snails.
The discovery was made by members of the Central Institute for Restoration and Conservation of Archival and Library Heritage (ICRCPAL) in Rome.
Purple pages from the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis [Image: Mons. Antonio De Simone, Arcidiocesi di Rossano –Cariati]
"Even though early medieval illuminated manuscripts have been deeply studied from the historical standpoint, they have been rarely fully described in their material composition," lab director Marina Bicchieri, from ICRCPAL told Seeker.
“Fibre optics reflectance spectra (FORS) showed a perfect match between the purple parchment of the codex and a dye obtained with orcein and an addition of sodium carbonate
Drawings from the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis [Image: Mons. Antonio De Simone, Arcidiocesi di Rossano –Cariati]
The Codex Purpureus Rossanensis contains the gospels of Matthew and Mark. It is known worldwide for its peculiar colour of its pages and has a series of 14 illuminations, illustrating the life and teaching of Christ. The superb miniatures make it one of the oldest illuminated manuscripts of the New Testament.
It’s thought the manuscript, which was found in the Cathedral of Rossano in 1879, was first brought to Italy by monks and made in Syria.
Sadly, the text is now incomplete, following a fire inside the Cathedral of Rossano. Experts estimate they have round half of the original book.
Pope Francis views the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis [Image: Mons. Antonio De Simone, Arcidiocesi di Rossano –Cariati]