Mississippi’s link to ancient Christianity: Rare manuscript once part of university collection could fetch millions at London auction

Published 8:35 am Friday, April 12, 2024

A priceless relic from the dawn of Christianity, with a remarkable connection to the state of Mississippi, is poised to make waves in the world of antiquities.

The Crosby-Schoyen Codex hailed as one of the oldest surviving books, could fetch millions when it goes to auction at Christie’s in London.

This document, penned in Coptic on papyrus between 250 and 350 AD, offers a glimpse into the formative years of Christianity.

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Eugenio Donadoni, Christie’s Senior Specialist in Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, emphasized its significance in a recent Reuters news story, noting it represents a crucial period in the evolution of bookmaking, marking the transition from papyrus scrolls to the codex form — the format we recognize as books today. Notably, it contains early texts from two books of the Bible: the First Epistle of Peter and the Book of Jonah.

Crafted meticulously over four decades by a solitary scribe in a monastery nestled in upper Egypt, the 104-page codex has endured, thanks partly to Egypt’s arid climate. Donadoni noted the rarity of such artifacts from the 3rd and 4th centuries, emphasizing Egypt’s unique climactic conditions as key to their preservation.

The manuscript’s journey to prominence began when it was unearthed in Egypt during the 1950s, eventually finding its way to the University of Mississippi, where it resided until 1981.

It was then acquired by Dr. Martin Schoyen, a distinguished Norwegian manuscript collector, in 1988. Now, it forms part of his renowned Schoyen Collection, one of the world’s largest private repositories of ancient manuscripts.

Enthusiasts eager to see this remarkable piece of history can do so at Christie’s New York until April 9, before it heads across the Atlantic for the auction in London on June 11.