The events of the Church of Aquileia, the assertion of its apostolic origins, the evangelising action of Slavic peoples promoted by Paulinus of Aquileia and his successors, the apogee and the decline of the ‘State’ of the patriarchs are deeply woven into the history of this extraordinary book that can be full-rightly considered somewhat an emblem of the patriarchal Friuli. Probably written in the area of Ravenna in the first half of the sixth century and got in Friuli around the second half of the ninth, the Foroiuliense Evangeliarium originally contained the full text of the four gospels in the Latin Vulgata version. Due to the Church of Aquileia the gospel of Mark was dismembered so as to be exhibited to the worship of the faithful as an Evangelist’s autograph, a confirmation of a very old tradition according which Mark, the apostle Peter’s disciple, was the first speller of the gospel in the region. The belief of an autograph of Mark kept in the city that had once been the capital of Venetia et Histria had very early been diffused throughout the Latin West, so that when emperor Charles IV passed through Friuli during his first descent to Italy in 1354-55, he asked his brother, the patriarch Nicholas of Luxemburg [Nicolò di Lussemburgo], some pages of it for his cathedral of Prague. Beyond the merely religious meaning detectable in Charles IV’s gesture, the presence of Mark’s autograph in Aquileia «turned out to be a stunning political topic in a historic period when the Church of Aquileia had a strong controversy with Grado-Venetian powers». Due to that the Venetian army seized the gospel of Mark as soon as it put an end to the patriarchal state after an invasion. The gospel transferral to St. Mark’s basilica occurred in 1420, June 24th, with a solemn ceremony that intended to make clear the submission of the Aquileian Patriarchate to the ‘Serenissima’ Republic of Venice. In the ninth-tenth century, before its dismembering that occurred after the year 1000, the Foroiuliense Evangeliarium had also taken on the role of Liber vitae. As a matter of fact, in its pages there are recorded hundreds and hundreds of personal names coming from an unbelievably wide territory from Alemannia to Bavaria, from Carentania to Pannonia, from Moravia to Croatia, from Bulgaria to Byzantium itself and converging towards the south-eastern zone of the Carolingian empire, namely the Aquileian area. These are the names of the faithful and pilgrims, starting from patriarch Theutmar (851-872), who wanted to entrust their lives to the protection of the Aquileian martyrs that were worshipped at San Canzian d’Isonzo, by Aquileia, where their martyrdom had taken place (ad aquas gradatas). It is an extraordinary evidence of the debt those peoples had towards the missionary Church of Aquileia. Devoid of the gospel of Mark, the codex is nowadays kept at Cividale del Friuli (National Archaeological Museum. Archives and Library, codex CXXXVIII), while the surviving Mark’s pages are split between the cathedral of Prague and the treasure of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
An extraordinary book for its antiquity and its history that can be full-rightly considered somewhat an emblem of patriarchal Friuli.