History Podcasts

The Book of Kells

The Book of Kells


A free, online course developed by Trinity College Dublin now allows learners worldwide to explore the history of Ireland through the remarkable Book of Kells — one of the world's most famous medieval manuscripts.

The ninth-century Book of Kells is one of Ireland’s greatest cultural treasures. A lavishly decorated copy of the four gospels written in Latin, it is set apart from other manuscripts of the same period by the quality of its artwork and the sheer number of illustrations that run throughout the 680 pages of the book. Housed at the Library of Trinity College Dublin, the Book of Kells is one of the must-sees on the itinerary of visitors to Dublin.

Now members of the public around the world have the opportunity to learn more about this precious manuscript through a new four-week online course. The “The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Masterpiece” course first debuted on October 8th, 2018 and is run in partnership with Futurelearn, the social learning platform.

A new session will begin on September 16, 2019. The free online course is aimed at anyone with an interest in Ireland, medieval studies, history, art, religion and popular culture.

Fish in the Book of Kells (fol. 89v).

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) has been designed by academics from the School of Histories and Humanities, the School of Religion and staff from the Library. Using the Book of Kells as a window the course will explore the landscape, history, theology, and politics of early medieval Ireland and explore how that past is understood in modern Ireland.

Rachel Moss, Associate Professor in the History of Art and Architecture, and one of the course designers, commented: “Every year the campus of Trinity fills with expectant visitors, keen to see the world-famous Book of Kells for themselves. There are few experiences to beat the experience of gazing on these precious pages and imagining who else has shared that privilege over the past 1,200 years. The longer you dwell, the more detail reveals itself, and the more intriguing the manuscript becomes.”

The Book of Kells. Photo: RollingNews.ie

“In this course we look forward to being able to share the manuscript with those who have yet to see it for themselves and share it again with those that have. The course will bring the learner beyond that initial encounter to explore its minute and intricate art, how it was made and what it might have meant to its makers. The course will not just dwell in the past. The manuscript is extraordinary in the way in which it has managed to grip the public imagination up to the present day. Despite centuries of scholarship, new research continues to disentangle some of the enigmas that it presents.”

The Long Room at Trinity College Library, Dublin.

Learners on the course will explore the art, theology and materiality of the manuscript and the meanings that it holds. Each week the course will explore a different side of the Book of Kells its history, how it was made, interpreting its images, and what the book means for popular culture today.

At the end of the course learners will be able to explain the function and meanings of medieval Irish art understand how medieval manuscripts were made and engage critically with methodologies and scholarly debates which have shaped interpretations of the period. The course will also equip learners with knowledge of the distinctive features of the Irish Church in this era and an understanding of the visual, theological and historical characteristics of medieval material culture.

Fáinche Ryan, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of the Loyola Institute, added: “Growing up in Ireland I always knew that the Book of Kells was a great Irish treasure. But it wasn't until I began to study it from the point of view of theology that I began to appreciate the wealth of insight to be gleaned from this important manuscript. It is a text both of great beauty, and of great learning.”

The Temptation of Christ in the Book of Kells (fol. 202v).

“The more I learn about the Book of Kells the more amazed I am at the scholarship of the people of these islands, perched as it then was at the edge of the Western world. In this course we hope to share something of this 'learned beauty'. A particular richness of this course for me has been the opportunity to work with art historians and colleagues in the Library. The intersection of art and theology, and insights into the work of the custodians of the manuscript, adds greatly to the course.”

The Book of Kells is one of the world’s greatest medieval treasures. It is a lavishly decorated copy of the four gospels written in Latin with supporting texts. It is set apart from other manuscripts of the same period by the quality of its artwork and the sheer number of illustrations that run throughout the 680 pages of the book. It was intended for ceremonial use on special occasions such as Easter rather than for everyday use. It is not known exactly when the Book of Kells was written but it is thought that it may have been around 800 AD.

The Virgin and Child in the Book of Kells (fol. 7v).

It was written and illustrated by hand using all of carefully prepared materials including vellum, inks and pigments. It is believed that the Book of Kells was written in a monastery founded by St Colum Cille on Iona in Scotland. Viking raids were widespread at the time of the creation of the Book of Kells and it became too dangerous for the monks to continue living on the island.

The monks fled from Iona to their sister newly established monastery in Kells, Co Meath, around 807AD. It is not known if the book was written wholly in Iona or if part of it was written in Kells, but we know that it remained in Kells throughout the Middle Ages and eventually, it was placed in the Library of Trinity College by Bishop Henry Jones of Meath in 1661.


The Book of Kells

The Book of Kells, also called the Book of Columba, is considered by many to be the ultimate source of Celtic Knot imagery. It is an illuminated manuscript written in Latin and richly illustrated. The Book of Kells takes its name from The Abbey of Kells in Kells, County Meath where the book was housed for much of the medieval time period. The name, the Book of Columba, comes from St. Columba who was credited by some historians with creating the work. However, St. Columba died in 597 AD which is more than two hundred years before paleographic evidence suggests the book was created. The book contains the four gospels of the New Testament and some related texts and tables. It is believed to have been created around 800 AD in the Columban Monastery located either in England or Ireland. The Book of Kells is often considered one of Ireland’s national treasures.

The pages of the Book of Kells contain beautiful illuminations of Angels, Jesus and the Virgin Mary, and even animals. Although the book has lost many pages over the centuries, the ones that remain are a treasure trove for those that are interested in learning how to draw Celtic knot designs. The Book of Kells has been lost, stolen, mishandled, abused, and finally protected, but what is left of it has now been copied and is available as an iPad download.


Explore the history of Ireland using the remarkable Book of Kells

The Book of Kells manuscript, housed at Trinity College Dublin is world famous - it attracts almost one million visitors a year. But what can this book tell us about Irish history? And what significance is the manuscript in today’s world?

On this course you will use the Book of Kells as a window through which to explore the landscape, history, faith, theology, and politics of early medieval Ireland. You will also consider how the manuscript was made, its extended biography and how it has affected different areas of the contemporary world.

0:13 Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Why do almost a million people every year come to look at a 1,200-year-old book? Welcome to this course on the Book of Kells from Trinity College Dublin. I’m Dr. Rachel Moss from the Department of History of Art and Architecture. And I’m Dr. Fáinche Ryan from the Loyola Institute of Theology at Trinity. And together with our colleagues from the library at Trinity, over the next four weeks, we’ll be exploring one of Ireland’s most famous manuscripts. The Book of Kells sits in a darkened room encased in protective glass in the old library here at Trinity College. It’s regarded as one of the greatest cultural treasures of Ireland and described by some as the most famous manuscript in the world.

0:56 Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds But why is it so famous? Why do so many people travel from across the world to see it? And why is its artwork reproduced in such varied places as Irish national coinage and tattoos? There is no one answer to these questions. Indeed, a key to understanding the Book of Kells is to remember that, from its very inception, it’s held different meanings for different peoples. At one level, it is a sacred scripture, part of the Christian Bible and it has been prepared or created with such care and attention that one might say its very composition was an act of devotion.

1:37 Skip to 1 minute and 37 seconds At another level, it is an artistic masterpiece, the intricacies of which lead the mind and the eyes along pathways of imagination. The Book of Kells is to Dublin what the Mona Lisa is to Paris and the Sistine Chapel ceiling is to Rome. You haven’t been to Ireland unless you’ve seen the Book of Kells. For Irish people, it represents a sense of pride, a tangible link to a positive time in Ireland’s past, reflected through its unique art. It is truly a symbol of Irishness. Over the next four weeks of this course, we’ll be exploring the multiple facets of the Book of Kells. It’s not our intention to provide definitive answers to the many questions that surround it.

2:22 Skip to 2 minutes and 22 seconds Rather, we’ll be exploring the manuscript through various perspectives and encouraging participants to think for themselves about the meanings that the manuscript holds.


Iona, the Vikings and the making of the Book of Kells

It has been suggested that this Chi-Rho initial, with its dazzling range of colour and intricate patterns, would have taken months, perhaps even a year, to complete. This is the top left corner of the folio, with two moths and an angel enmeshed in a sequence of curvilinear designs. It represents a mere 10% of the page as a whole. Time was obviously not of major concern to the artists, as suggested by the cartoon

Despite more than a century of scholarly research, we know remarkably little about the circumstances in which the Book of Kells was made. While it is now clear that at least four scribe-artists were involved, their identities remain a mystery, as do their status and the nature of their training. Likewise unknown is the identity of the patron and the specific events that prompted the undertaking of such an ambitious work. While it is generally accepted that the book was begun in the monastery of Iona at some point after c. 740, the precise date is far from clear. Many years ago the art historian Françoise Henry made the intriguing suggestion that it may have been commissioned to mark the 200th anniversary in 797 of the death of St Columba, the founder of the monastery whether true or not, popular opinion appears to favour a date in the years around 800, with some commentators adding a gloss to the effect that the manuscript was subsequently finished at Kells. These oft-repeated assertions have not been sufficiently challenged in recent years, despite the fact that the period around 800 remains a most unlikely time for the start of such a project. There is also the mystery of the unfinished folios, for which no satisfactory explanation has been offered. There are many further anomalies, the most conspicuous of which is the chaotic insertion of numbers in the canon tables—‘unbelievably irresponsible’, in the words of Françoise Henry. The making of the manuscript was clearly not the result of a smooth, orderly process within the scriptorium (or scriptoria) there were obviously occasions when things went badly wrong. This gives rise to a further issue: for how long did work continue on the decoration of the book? We simply do not know whether the illumination was carried out in a relatively short space of time, perhaps two or three years, or whether the process was far slower, stretching across decades rather than years.

Artistic evidence

from The New Yorker. (The Book of Kells, folio 34r [detail], the ‘Chi-Rho’ Initial, © The Board of Trinity College Dublin 2013)

Cú Chuimne in youth
read his way through half the truth.
He let the other half lie
while he gave women a try.

Above: It would be a huge mistake to imagine that Irish monks of the eighth century were incapable of laughter or amusement. In this case an initial T is formed by an elasticated man, who lethargically stretches out his arms to catch a passing bird, evidently a peacock. The passage (from St Matthew’s Gospel) describes how the Pharisees took council as to how they might ensnare or seize Christ. As the peacock was seen as a symbol of Christ, this is a witty response to the words of the text. (The Book of Kells, folio 96r, © The Board of Trinity College Dublin 2013)

The dazzling range of colour and the time expended on the painting, along with the humour, suggest that the Book of Kells was produced in a monastery at ease with itself, where the immediate future was reasonably secure. It was clearly a well-established monastery, with a well-stocked library and a highly professional scriptorium. This all points to Iona rather than Kells, a provenance that most scholars now accept. The production of such a highly ornamented gospel-book was an enormous task, one that was surely beyond the means of a new monastery like Kells in the first years of its existence. And the character of the art itself points to a date well before 804–7, when Kells was established.

Columba’s anniversary?
We have already noted one event that might have stimulated the making of a splendid gospel-book: the 200th anniversary of the death of Columba. But if the book was to be ready for a specific occasion, a high degree of forward planning would have been required, and herein lies a problem: it is hard—if not impossible—to imagine such an extravagant and time-consuming work as Kells being made against a deadline. On the other hand, there is no doubt about the association with Columba, since the Annals of Ulster in 1007 described the book as ‘the great gospel of Colum Cille’ and ‘the most precious object of the western world’. By then, if not long before, it was being treated as part of the minna or treasured relics of the saint. Several scholars have argued that the idea of making the book was prompted by the enshrining of Columba’s remains, which took place at some point in the middle years of the eighth century.

Viking raids

Why was the decoration never finished? There are five pages at the beginning of St Matthew’s Gospel where the decoration was barely started. At this point the text is arranged in double columns: here we have the upper left quadrant, with a lion and a bird in combat. The frame has been prepared in outline, along with a few details of the ornament. Surprisingly, some paint was applied long before the drawing was complete. (The Book of Kells, folio 30v [detail], © The Board of Trinity College Dublin 2013

Exorcism
Some years ago Bernard Meehan pointed to a further mystery. This concerned the illustration of the Temptation of Christ, where minute examination of the black devil has revealed a series of stab-marks. This was not a random attack, because the marks are restricted to the figure of the devil alone. The attack on the devil—if that is what it was—apparently took place in antiquity, but there is no evidence to show exactly when. The desecration has the hallmarks of exorcism, a liturgical practice prominent in the early church. One of the powers associated with the saints was their ability to cast out demons, and there are a number of panels on the Irish high crosses that show the clergy overcoming evil spirits. The importance of exorcism is underlined by the existence of the exorcist, a specific office listed among the seven grades of clergy. Books, bells and croziers have been traditionally associated with the practice, and it would be no surprise to learn that the Columban community turned to their sacred books in the face of Viking horror, a time when it must have seemed that the devil incarnate was running amok. Perhaps this was when the black painted devil on folio 202v was stabbed without firm evidence, of course, we will never know.

The ‘work of angels’?

Attacking the devil. In this full-page miniature, Christ, at the summit of the Temple, is being tempted by the devil. As Bernard Meehan has pointed out, the black, skeletal devil was at some unknown date mutilated by a series of small stab-marks—a reminder, perhaps, that books occasionally played a part in the practice of exorcism, accompanying pleas for divine intervention. (The Book of Kells, folio 202v, © The Board of Trinity College Dublin 2013)

The mutilated devil reminds us of the sacredness of the manuscript and the fact that the book itself evidently became part of the minna of Columba, venerated through its association with the saint. Is this a clue as to why it remained unfinished? Once the work was interrupted, the community may have lost the desire to continue, especially if some of the original scribes were now dead (or had perhaps been killed). The book was associated with more peaceful times, before the Columban communities were beset by Viking slaughter. It may have seemed wrong to tamper with what, even then, could have been regarded as a ‘work of angels’. Whatever happened, there must have been a conscious decision not to finish the illumination. When the book was eventually taken to Kells, possibly in 878, there were surely opportunities to complete the missing sections, opportunities that were apparently never taken.
The sequence of events outlined above remains, of course, hypothetical, but it is only by proposing hypotheses and testing them against the facts that we have any hope of getting closer to the truth. The most plausible reading of the evidence suggests that the gospel-book of Columba—the future ‘Book of Kells’—was started on Iona well before 793 and much of what we see today was evidently finished by that date. It was still incomplete in the 790s, and the disruption and fear caused by Viking activities may well have inhibited further work. In fact, the tribulations experienced by the community on Iona, not least the massacre of 806, may have helped to transform the gospel-book into a relic or sacred memorial of a bygone age. HI

Further reading
J. Marsden, The fury of the Northmen: saints, shrines and sea-raiders in the Viking age, AD 793–878 (London, 1993).
B. Meehan, The Book of Kells (London, 2012) [reviewed pp 56–7].


Explore the history of Ireland using the remarkable Book of Kells

The Book of Kells manuscript, housed at Trinity College Dublin is world famous - it attracts almost one million visitors a year. But what can this book tell us about Irish history? And what significance is the manuscript in today’s world?

On this course you will use the Book of Kells as a window through which to explore the landscape, history, faith, theology, and politics of early medieval Ireland. You will also consider how the manuscript was made, its extended biography and how it has affected different areas of the contemporary world.

0:13 Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Why do almost a million people every year come to look at a 1,200-year-old book? Welcome to this course on the Book of Kells from Trinity College Dublin. I’m Dr. Rachel Moss from the Department of History of Art and Architecture. And I’m Dr. Fáinche Ryan from the Loyola Institute of Theology at Trinity. And together with our colleagues from the library at Trinity, over the next four weeks, we’ll be exploring one of Ireland’s most famous manuscripts. The Book of Kells sits in a darkened room encased in protective glass in the old library here at Trinity College. It’s regarded as one of the greatest cultural treasures of Ireland and described by some as the most famous manuscript in the world.

0:56 Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds But why is it so famous? Why do so many people travel from across the world to see it? And why is its artwork reproduced in such varied places as Irish national coinage and tattoos? There is no one answer to these questions. Indeed, a key to understanding the Book of Kells is to remember that, from its very inception, it’s held different meanings for different peoples. At one level, it is a sacred scripture, part of the Christian Bible and it has been prepared or created with such care and attention that one might say its very composition was an act of devotion.

1:37 Skip to 1 minute and 37 seconds At another level, it is an artistic masterpiece, the intricacies of which lead the mind and the eyes along pathways of imagination. The Book of Kells is to Dublin what the Mona Lisa is to Paris and the Sistine Chapel ceiling is to Rome. You haven’t been to Ireland unless you’ve seen the Book of Kells. For Irish people, it represents a sense of pride, a tangible link to a positive time in Ireland’s past, reflected through its unique art. It is truly a symbol of Irishness. Over the next four weeks of this course, we’ll be exploring the multiple facets of the Book of Kells. It’s not our intention to provide definitive answers to the many questions that surround it.

2:22 Skip to 2 minutes and 22 seconds Rather, we’ll be exploring the manuscript through various perspectives and encouraging participants to think for themselves about the meanings that the manuscript holds.


The Book of Kells, a Medieval Masterpiece

Today I am off on another holiday, this time to Dublin, and so I thought I needed to do something Dublin themed. I decided to write about the Book of Kells, which I am looking forwards to seeing on my visit. Due to time limitations (I am leaving in a few hours!) and because the manuscript is so beautiful, this post will be more picture based than usual, but hopefully you enjoy the change! (All images from WikiCommons)

Folio 309r – text from the Gospel of John.

The Book of Kells is believed to have been created c. 800, and is a Latin Gospel which is beautifully illuminated. Also known as the Book of Columba, it is believed that it was created either in a Columban monastery in Ireland, or had various contributions from Columban institutions in Ireland and Britain. The Book of Kells is part of the Insular Style, which is a style of manuscripts produced between the late sixth and early ninth centuries in monasteries in Ireland, Scotland and England. The style is generally considered as a mix between Celtic and Anglo-Saxon styles, with a heavy focus on intricate and dense decoration, the use of knots, spirals, and other geometric patterns. It also uses lots of animal illustrations, taken from Germanic culture.

Folio 27v – the symbols of the Four Evangelists (Clockwise from top left): a man (Matthew), a lion (Mark), an eagle (John) and an ox (Luke).

The Book of Kells got its name because for most of the medieval period the book was kept at the Abbey of Kells in County Meath. According to tradition, St Columba himself created the work, although he died in 597 and the style does not match that time period. It has generally been agreed that the book was created c 800, possibly coinciding with the 200 th anniversary of St Columba’s death which is perhaps the reason his name is lent to the work. This dating is around the same time that Viking raids in Iona began, which dispersed monks and holy relics across Ireland and Scotland. This then matches with the most commonly agreed upon origin for the creation of the book that the book was created at Iona, then brought to Kells for the illuminations to be added.

Folio 292r – the page that opens the Gospel of John.

The survival of the Book of Kells to modern times is remarkable. Kells Abbey was plundered and pillaged by the Vikings many times in the tenth century and yet it is believed that the book was at the abbey during this period. In 1007, the Annals of Ulster record that the Gospel was stolen from the church. This places the book there definitively in 1007, but it was likely there for a substantial time before then for thieves to learn of its location. Luckily the book was recovered a few months later with the gold, bejewelled cover having been ripped off, taking some of the pages with it.

Here is a decorated initial – the Book of Kells is not only decorated with huge illustrations, but lots of little ones all across the text too.

In the twelfth century the Abbey was dissolved after ecclesiastical reforms, but the Gospel remained at Kells in the converted abbey church which had been transformed into a parish church. In the same century, the writer Gerald of Wales described seeing what has been assumed to be the Book of Kells, describing its beauty with such praise, claiming “You will make out intricacies, so delicate and so subtle, so full of knots and links, with colours so fresh and vivid, that you might say that all this were the work of an angel, and not of a man”.

Folio 34r – the Chi Rho monogram. Chi and rho are the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek.

In 1654, the Gospel finally left Kells when the governor of the town sent it to Dublin for safekeeping as Cromwell’s cavalry were quartered in Kell’s church. Not only may the book have been plundered because they were soldiers, but Cromwell’s Puritan views would have disapproved of such a richly decorated manuscript and so his cavalry may have decided to destroy it on his behalf. The Book of Kells was presented to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1661 after the Restoration, and it is still there to this day.

Folio 19 – the beginning of the Breves causae of Luke.

The Book holds significance through its creation and design. In the nineteenth century it was used to demonstrate Ireland’s cultural primacy as St Columba died the same year that Augustine brought Christianity and literacy to Canterbury. In the same century its rising popularity led to a Celtic Revival where designs from the book were copied and adapted, with patterns appearing in metalwork, embroidery, furniture and pottery. In line with its popularity, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were invited to sign the book in 1849. One of the folios contains an image of the Virgin and Child, which is the oldest extant image of the Virgin Mary in a Western manuscript.

Folio 7v – the Virgin and Child

The decorative work put into the Gospel certainly supports Gerald’s description:

“In one decoration, which occupies a one-inch square piece of a page, there are 158 complex interlacements of white ribbon with a black border on either side. Some decorations can only be fully seen with magnifying glasses, although lenses of the required power are not known to have been available until hundreds of years after the book’s completion.” [Wikipedia]

Folio 34r – small detail on the Chi Rho monogram page

The Book of Kells still has resonance today. In 2009, an animated film The Secret of Kells was made telling a fictional story of the creators of the book, who struggled to complete it whilst Vikings invaded. But beyond that, even over 1000 years later it is easy to be awestruck by its beauty. The intricate designs, beautiful colours, and the clear love of the craft that was put into its creation all contributes to a great appreciation of the work. I certainly look forwards to seeing it in person.

You can view the Book of Kells online via Trinity College’s digital collections here.

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In the fifteenth century, lines between science and magic were blurred. Read the real stories of four women in the English Royal Family who were accused of practising witchcraft in order to influence or kill the king.

A Piece of Irish History: The Book of Kells

When I think of honoring Irish Heritage, I don’t think of the modern partying and wearing of the green. I think of a symbol of creative Irish history, the wonderfully illuminated medieval manuscript called “The Book of Kells”. It has been regarded as one of the most beautiful examples of Celtic artwork.

Detail of one page of “The Book of Kells”. Original is displayed at Trinity College, Dublin

“The Book of Kells” is a religious book, and contains the gospels of the Bible. It was created by Monks on pages made of carefully prepared calfskin called vellum. Not only does it have inked words that pop out as artwork all by themselves, it is also jam-packed with gorgeous detailed illumination (illustrations) painted with pigments hand made from natural materials such as plants and minerals. The details are stunning! I am constantly amazed at the tiny and exact strokes done with a primitive quill under natural or lantern light. Those few artists had to have had perfect technique with non shaking hands!

How old it is, no one is completely sure, but they place the date close to the 800s AD.
Where this manuscript was written and illustrated could range from a monastery on an island off Scotland called Iona, or other sections of Scotland. The Monks then took up refuge from Vikings raids in Kells (Ceanannas ) in Ireland. In the same County Mearth (Contae na Mí ) which is rich with medieval and ancient Irish historical landmarks. There the manuscript remained during the middle ages. In the 1600s it was moved to Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, where it remains now on display. The fact that it still exists and you can still read and see the colors after all these centuries is mind boggling.

Why do I love this manuscript? Because the book is so richly decorated! At first glance of these detailed decorations and you might think who could come up with these designs? Were they under the influence of drugs?? No, they had imagination and creativity with a bit of borrowing.

Many of the basic design elements for the book have roots in older Celtic art. In Bernard Meehan’s “The Book of Kells” there are two pages that show side by side comparisons with artifacts of ancient carved stones and jewelry/accessories from old gravesites. You can definitely see how the Monks may have borrowed some of these designs, but they took their illumination to a whole other level of fantasy! That is what I love the most about this book, all the fanciful creatures and the flowing feeling of the knot-work.

Following the Monks influence, I decided to borrow designs from their book, and embellish some of my fiber arts.

In “The Book of Kells”, there are many fun animals. Often they have jobs as punctuation marks or to point to key elements in the text. I find them kind of like a story within the story. You could argue that they had religious symbolism, but I prefer to think the Monks were just having a little fun in painting them.

One of the creatures in the book I found personally appealing was the wonderful jewel-tone colored “Wolf”. One part realism and the rest bunches of fantasy as he marches across the page!

Folio 76v from Trinity College Digital file

Another favorite animal in the book is the salamander.

I found it interesting that most of the references I read on this subject called it a lizard and they were not sure if it was from a scribe’s imagination or not. On a recent trip to a Maritime Museum, I was pleasantly surprised to see spotted Sirens. Interestingly they are large salamanders with only front paws and those paws had claw like toenails, just like in “The Book of Kells”! Per the Waterman and Hill Traveller’s Companion: “Sirens are probably the most ancient line of salamanders now alive on planet earth.” and they can grow to 16 inches in length.

I made the appliques out of linen in the colors that come close to the pigment colors and outlined it with embroidery.

“Wolf” applique in progress.

Wolf and Salamander appliques completed.

The spirals of the book influenced this embroidered wool vest I made. The final touches were the polished stone in the center of the designs.

Wool vest in planning stage

Decorating a Halloween themed coat I used a modification of the Kells Cats! Compare to the photo above.

Beginnings of the embroidered details of this coat.

I hope I have inspired you this St. Patrick’s Day to check out “The Book of Kells” at Trinity College of Dublin’s link : Click on the photo.

Zoom in and enjoy the very fine details. And I hope you will also feel inspired to try creating something influenced by it!

La Fhéile Pádraig Shona Daoibh!! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

For more Kells, add this perfect St. Patrick’s Day treat to your day. It is a beautifully animated little movie that was inspired by the manuscript: “The Secret of the Kells”. Here is the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lw2_HZTuQBE.

References
Bernard Meehan, The Book of Kells, an Illustrated Introduction
Peter Harbison, The Golden Age of Irish Art: The Medieval Achievement
Christopher DeHamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts

Several of the words above are in the Irish language, but more on that in another post!

Be sure and check out Facebook Page: Maplewood Press for more photos and information.


KELLS, BOOK OF

The Book of Kells is a vellum Gospel book profusely and brilliantly decorated, one of the greatest achievements of European decorative art, produced in the Columban mission field, perhaps at Iona, 775 – 800. It is now at Trinity College, Dublin. The decoration builds on the earlier tradition of the books of durrow and lindisfarne, but belongs to a later, more elaborate, sophisticated, and baroque phase. In addition to the pages representing the Evangelist symbols, it has pages of fantastic ornament with spreads of minute and intricate color work and pen drawing great ornamental monogram pages heavily ornate canon tables and illustrative pages depicting the arrest of Christ, the Virgin and Child, the temptation of Christ, and other subjects. A brilliant series of inhabited or zoomorphic initials, all different, runs through the text. The ornamental text passages in capitals have become almost illegible. The human figure, foliate motifs, and marginal genre subjcts, such as the otter and salmon or cat and mice, appear.

At least four, perhaps five, different artists can be distinguished, and their work varies in style and quality but the palette is consistently rich. In the elaborate canon tables the symbols of the Evangelists replace their names over the columns. The book appears to have been regarded primarily as a medium of unrestricted artistic creation. The text is mixed, and it is poorly set out and full of mistakes, though in an ornamental half – uncial hand of great beauty.

Bibliography: Codex Cenannensis, ed. e. h. alton and p. meyer, 3 v. (New York 1950 – 51). s. f. h. robinson, Celtic Illuminative Art in the Gospel Books of Durrow, Lindisfarne and Kells (Dublin 1908). e. sullivan, The Book of Kells (New York 1955). f. o'mahony, ed., The Book of Kells: Proceedings of a Conference at Trinity College Dublin, 6 – 9 September 1992 (Aldershot, Eng.1994). g. henderson, From Durrow to Kells: The Insular Gospel – books, 650 – 800 (New York 1987). c. farr, The Book of Kells: Its Function and Audience (London 1997).

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BRUCE–MITFORD, R. L. S. "Kells, Book of ." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved June 17, 2021 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kells-book

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The Book of Kells - History

Irish Hi gh Crosses

The Monastery at Kells was re-founded in c.804CE by monks from St Colmcille's abbey on Iona. As well as the Book of Kells the town is also famous for it's five High Crosses. Three of the crosses, and the base of a fourth cross, are located on the grounds of St Columcille's C of I Church on the west side of town, the fifth, and probably most well known, is the Market cross. It is presently situated at the west side of the old courthouse, on the northside of the old Navan Road.

The Market Cross, east face pictured above right, is a sandstone cross standing at 3.35 metres high. It was once known as the Gate Cross, as it once stood at the eastern gateway to the monastery. The monument has been moved on several occasions. It was re-erected at the junction of Market Street, Castle Street and John's Street in 1688 until it was damaged by a school bus in 1996. It has stood in it's present location since 2001. Latitude: 53° 43' 35" N. Longitude: 6° 52' 16" W

South side, Massacre of the innocents ?

South side, Man spearing a stag

West Face, Inscription

East Face, David acclaimed ?

East Face, Horsemen with shields

West Face, Deer hunt or Noah?

North Face, Hunting scene with centaurs

- South Face, Battle scene

Cross of St Patrick and St Columba

This is the earliest of the high crosses in Kells , it was erected in the 9th century. An inscription in latin, at the top of the base, on the east face reads PATRICII ET COLUMBAE CRUX -The Cross of Patrick and Columbia. Also known as the south cross it stands about 3.30 metres high.

East Face-Adam and Eve + Cain and Abel

Raven brings bread to SS Paul and Anthony

It is unusual to see the crucifixion, pictured above left, depicted on the shaft of the west face, rather than at the centre of the head. The head features Christ with a sceptre and a cross-staff, this is associated with the last judgement, similar to the east face of the Durrow cross. The end of the south arm, pictured above right, features David slaying a Lion. The east side of the base features a man hunting animals, similar to the west side of the Market cross. The west side of the base depicts a chariot procession.

Base west side

Base east side

The West Cross or Ruined Cross, which stands at the west end of the graveyard must have been absolutely stunning, it has some beautifully inscribed decorative panels on it's north and south sides. The west side has some scenes from the Bible, including Adam and Eve and also the Israelites returning to the promised land. The east side has many scenes such as The Marriage feast of Cana, Christs Baptism and Christ entering Jerusalem. The cross was probably erected in the 10th century. It is believed the damage to the cross was done by Oliver Cromwell's soldiers.

The west cross, east face

The west cross, west face

West cross - west face - Moses and Aaron

West cross - west face - Moses, Pillar of Fire

Archaeologist Peter Harbison suggests this cross may be one of the earliest scriptural crosses and if his interpretation of the panels are correct, they show a particular theme, baptism. Water was used in the sacrament of baptism, Noah was saved in water, Christ's first miracle he turned water into wine at Cana, The Iraelites passed through water unharmed (Red sea), the lame man was healed at the pool of Bethesda. The last two panels are not pictured. Above left we have Adam and Eve and to the right is Noah's Ark.

Even without the head the cross stands at an impressive 3.96 metres high. Pictured above right is the south face and to the left a detail showing one of the decorative panels. The decoration on the north side is similar.

West cross - east face - Baptism of Christ

West cross - east face - Marriage at Cana

West cross - east face - Christ the child is bathed

West cross - east face - Magi question Herod

The east or Unfinished Cross, head pictured above, gives us an insight into how these High Crosses were constructed, the actual carving being done on site and the various segments of the crosses are clearly visible. At the centre of the head on the east face, pictured above, we can see an unfinished crucifixion scene. We can also see rectangular panels that have been marked out on the shaft, ready for carving. They had also started to carve an intricate key design on the underside of the south ring. The cross lay in fragments until it was re-erected in the late 19th century.

The unfinished west cross

The unfinished east cross

All that remains of The North Cross is the base pictured on the right, but judging by it's size the cross would not have been as tall as the other crosses at Kells. There are badly worn horizontal bands of decoration running around the base. Because of it's size, shape and decoration it has been suggested that this base and the one at Nobber graveyard were carved by the same person. If you do visit the high crosses at Kells allow yourself plenty of time view all the crosses and the wonderful craftsmanship on display. Also present at Kells is a round tower, a small oratory known as St Columb's House, a sundial and a medieval bell tower.

Situated: From Dublin take the N3 North through Navan, follow the main road through Kells till you see the round tower on your left, then turn left and left again and park up next to the gate at the round tower. You may have to walk around to the main gate for entry.

Discovery Map 42: N 7391 7587. Last Visit: Sept 2012.

Longitude: 6° 52' 47" W. Monastery.

Latitude: 53° 43' 39" N

Nearest High Crosses featured on this website

Killary: 16 Kilometres North East

Monasterboice: 31 Kilometres ENE.

Ref: D'Aughton, Malgorzata. &ldquoThe Kells Market Cross: The Epiphany Sequence Reconsidered.&rdquo Archaeology Ireland, vol. 18, no. 1, 2004, pp. 16&ndash19. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20562729.

Harbison, Peter "Irish High Crosses: With the figure sculptures explained "


Watch the video: Book of Kells Part 1 Documentary (December 2021).