The discovery Thursday of a 600-year-old bound and illuminated religious text, dubbed the Blacktip Codex, sent shockwaves through the Caribbean island’s religious and academic communities.
The rudimentary book, 200 pages of stacked sharkskin vellum bound on one edge, is attributed to St. Dervil of the Mead, patron saint of scuba diving and founder of the island’s Our Lady of Blacktip cathedral.
“Its folium rectum reads ‘The Gospel According to Dervil,’” Blacktip Reformed Theosophical Seminary deacon Calvin Augustine said. “The text is an account of Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ daughter Sarah fleeing to Blacktip Island, battling storms and pirates all the way. If true, it’s possible current Blacktip natives are their descendants.”
The codex was discovered after heavy rains caused a cathedral wall and part of the flooring to collapse, revealing a previously unknown storage vault containing the codex, pots of coconut mead holy water, a cot, playing cards and other religious relics.
Island historians say the book’s provenance speaks to its authenticity.
“Blacktip Island was sacked by Norse raiders blown off course on their way to Greenland,” Tiperon University-Blacktip history professor Edwin Chub said. “This codex could have been placed in the underground vault for safekeeping.
“Of course, Dervil was killed in that raid,” Chub said, “so any knowledge of the vault would have died with him.”
The island’s Ecumenical Council, however, has doubts.
“It may date back to Dervil’s time, and maybe even Dervil’s hand,” council president and former Reverend Jerrod Ephesians said. “But some mead-sotted monk’s potboiler about Jesus’s descendants in the Caribbean? That’s not history. That’s a B-grade movie.
“Now, Dermott Bottoms did walk on water that time James Conlee chucked the snake in his boat,” Ephesians said. “And Antonio Fletcher’s been known to cast out demons in Ballyhoo parking lot Saturday nights. But that’s hardly proof of divine genealogy.”
Historians are also intrigued by the codex’s detailed illuminated panels. In addition to gold-leaf images of Mary and Sarah, the codex also shows island settlers nettling lionfish.
“It’s the earliest known depiction of lionfish culling in the Caribbean,” Chub said. “Of necessity, Blacktip’s first settlers were fishers of lions, not fishers of men: a hastily-scribbled margin note reads, ‘Lord, save us from the devil, the Turk and the marinu leonus.’”
Island merchants, meanwhile, are already capitalizing on the find.
“With our resort being next to the church, we set up a roadside Blacktip Codex reading tent and gift shop,” Eagle Ray Cove owner Rich Skerritt said. “We’ve got Codex Mead, Codex caps and t-shirts and even Codex soap-on-a-rope that smells like a hurricane shelter.”