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The Book of Kells: An Illustrated Introduction to the Manuscript in Trinity College Dublin

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Bernard Meehan

This is essentially a scholarly introduction to the Book of Kells, the ancient illuminated manuscript of the gospels housed at Trinity College in Dublin. The text is laced with 117 mostly color photographs of the book's beautifully illustrated pages. … see full wiki

Author: Bernard Meehan
Genre: Arts & Photography, Nonfiction
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
1 review about The Book of Kells: An Illustrated Introduction...

Darkness into Light

  • Aug 24, 2005
  • by
I was glad I had this book along with me when I went to see the real Book of Kells at the Trinity College Library in Dublin. The lines of tourists waiting to view this famous eighth century manuscript were about a quarter of a mile long, and the museum proctors were really hustling us through the area where a small sampling of pages was actually on view.

(If you take the tour, be sure to check out the main chamber of the Old Library with its first editions of Newton and Darwin, plus the harp that is (alas, falsely) attributed to Brian Boru, high king of Ireland).

The first facsimile of the Book of Kells was published in 1974, and although this book only advertises itself as 'an illustrated introduction to the manuscript...' it contains good color plates of many of the most famous pages, e.g. the symbols of the four evangelists and the beginning of the 'Breves causae' of Matthew, among others.

Author, Bernard Meehan, the current Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College states that "the sacred text itself was copied in the Book of Kells with a remarkable degree of inaccuracy." It consists of the Latin text of the Gospels, illuminated in the very ornate Hiberno-Saxon style ('Hiberno' refers to the Irish, or Hibernians).

Legend has it that the Book of Kells was produced by St. Colum Cille on the island of Iona off western Scotland. Although it was probably begun in the Irish monastery on Iona, it was taken to the monastery of Kells in County Meath, after a series of Viking raids. The monastery on Iona was pillaged in 795, and again in 802. According to the author, "In 806, sixty-eight of the community were killed in another raid. The following year, the survivors migrated to Ireland and began to erect conventual buildings at Kells..." where the illumination of the manuscript was probably completed.

If you are interested in the historical background of the Book of Kells, the author devotes a whole Appendix to it.

Alas, according to this book's second Appendix, "Losses, Additions and Marginalia," the Book of Kells has not remained intact down through the centuries. "At present there are 340 folios, but around thirty folios, including some major decorated pages have been lost." The monks also used blank spaces in the manuscript to record details of property transactions in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Meehan's book is definitely worth viewing and reading. It also contains a wealth of the smaller decorative illustrations that do not always relate to the sacred text, e.g. hares, dogs, horses, and at least one moth. The color and minute details of these decorations are a source of endless fascination, and the scholarly text, although a trifle dry, is also very interesting.

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