Among Christianity’s greatest treasures is the Codex Alexandrinus, a manuscript of the Greek Bible written in the early 400s. It contains virtually the entire Bible, along with the Apocrypha, some hymns, and letters written by Clement of Rome.

It was housed in Alexandria until 1627, when Cyril Lucar, the patriarch of Alexandria, presented it to England’s King Charles I, who placed it in his Royal Library at St. James Place. But when the Puritan Revolution occurred, Charles was beheaded, and troops were quartered at St. James’s. The books in his library lay on the floor in heaps, subject to rain and dust and rats.

The monarchy was restored in 1660 under Charles II, but conditions at the Royal Library didn’t improve. In 1693 Richard Bentley, a brilliant classical scholar, temporarily took the Alexandrian Manuscript to his own lodgings for safekeeping.

In the early 1700s the Royal Library was moved to Cotton House, and the priceless Bible was kept in a narrow, damp room with only a small window at each end. Christopher Wren considered the building so ruinous that most of it “should be demolished,” and the library “purged of much useless trash.” In 1730 the Royal Library was moved into Ashburnham House which, on Saturday morning, October 23, 1731, caught fire. The alarm was given, and Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons, came across from his nearby residence to direct the rescue. Many precious volumes were thrown from the windows in an effort to save them, but the invaluable Codex Alexandrinus was treated with better care. An eyewitness told of the learned Dr. Bentley “in nightgown and great wig” fleeing the building with the Codex Alexandrinus under his arm.

The disastrous fire drew public attention to the plight of the Royal Library, and a generation later it found a home in the newly founded British Museum, where today the Codex Alexandrinus is securely displayed.

Many people have tried to tell the story of what God has done among us. They wrote what we had been told by the ones who were there in the beginning and saw what happened. So I made a careful study of everything and then decided to write and tell you exactly what took place. (Luke 1:1-3a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Oct.23.

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