The Book of Kells is a Celtic masterpiece which survived in a time when the British and Irish Isles were

bombarded by raids from the ferocious Vikings of the Scandinavian Peninsula, and when many works great works of art were destroyed. The Book of Kells is the foremost example of what is called an illuminated gospel book. It is considered to be a masterful example of the elaborately ornate Hiberno-Saxon style. The Hiberno-Saxon style dates back to the pagan era and is characterized by elaborate initials and ornamentation that utilizes animal motifs. The extraordinary use of color of is also a hallmark of this style, and one of the most beautiful aspects of the Book of Kells is the often shockingly bright colors in a book created during the Medieval era. The manuscript contains the full text of the four gospels of the Christian Holy Bible written in Latin. based on the Vulgate text which St Jerome completed in 384AD, intermixed with readings from the earlier Old Latin translation. The Gospel texts are prefaced by other texts, including "canon tables", or concordances of Gospel passages common to two or more of the evangelists; summaries of the gospel narratives (Breves causae); and prefaces characterizing the evangelists (Argumenta). The text is adorned with intricate geometrical designs and decorated with interlaced patterns. The book is written on vellum (prepared calfskin) in a bold and expert version of the script known as "insular majuscule". It contains 340 folios, now measuring approximately 330 x 255 mm; they were severely trimmed, and their edges gilded, in the course of rebinding in the 19th century. The date and place of origin of the Book of Kells have attracted a great deal of scholarly controversy. The majority academic opinion now tends to attribute it to the scriptorium of Iona (Argyllshire), with completion in the monastery in Kells. The Book of Kells is missing its colophon. If this colophon or final page was present it may have answered a lot of the questions that are being debating. It may have included a date or clue as to when the work was considered complete, a list of authors, and possibly a list of artists.

it is said. High King of Tara from 539 until 558. which is the Latin for Dove. With his imposing presence. He was a descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Colum Cille (St. . and he was a striking figure of great stature and powerful build. Colum Cille spent the next seventeen years travelling throughout Ireland preaching and teaching. Sometimes he is referred to as Columba. the ancestor of the Uí Néill kindred who dominated Ireland from the 6th century to the 10th century. and at last he made his confession to an aged hermit. The name Colum Cille. Diarmuid Mac Caroll (Cerbaill). or Dove of the Church or Cell. he resolved to exile himself and win for Christ in another land as many souls as had perished in the battle of Cuil Dremne. Brendan. Following that he had a more serious grievance against King Diarmaid. his conscience remained uneasy. Durrow. Columba went about Ireland for the next fifteen to seventeen years preaching and founding monasteries. A controversy broke out over the Cathach (“battle book. holy personality and self-denying discipline. melodious voice could be heard from one hilltop to another. but he was accused of being morally responsible for driving three thousand unprepared souls into eternity. Much to his chagrin Colum Cille was ordered by the High King Diarmuid to return the book and the copy he had made of it. Swords. A synod was held at Tailltiu (Telltown) in County Meath. is said to have granted the dun of Cenannus to Columba in the sixth century for the purpose of establishing a monastery. Drumcliff and Kells. but originally the Psalter belonging to St.St. the son of a chief related to several of the princes then reigning in Ireland and in the west of Scotland. he combined study and prayer with manual labor. 521. In Kells. on December 7th. Finian which he had brought back from Rome in 540). Co. by Columba. Columba was a splendid sailor. Donegal. As was the custom in those days. Columba) Colum Cille was born Criomhthann (meaning fox) at Gartan. when a prince had fatally injured a rival that had taken refuge with Colum Cille – but who was dragged from his protector's arms and slain by Diarmaid's men. Amongst many other accomplishments. As penance. was his later monastic nickname. Molaise. including those at Derry. Though he still felt he was in the right. in defiance of the sacred rights of sanctuary. But for the intervention of St. Columba would have been excommunicated. His loud. an Irish king. At the battle of Cuil Dremne Columba's cause was victorious. He was fully trained by the time he was twentyfive years old. which passed a vote of censure. The resulting war which broke out between Columba's clan and the clans loyal to Diarmaid was instigated. Colum Cille was a renowned scribe and he trained his monks to become expert scribes.

its abbot got "a free grant of Kells without a battle" — for it had originally belonged to Colum Cille. Colum Cille and his monks built a fleet of boats and in these they set out in all directions from Iona. His immense influence is shown by his mediation about the obligations of the Irish in Scotland to those in Ireland. (Cumhdach). Back to Kells In the ninth century. building 56 Churches and schools. it was taken to Trance by the O'Donnells and brought back to Ireland in 1813. His relics were translated to Dunkeld in 849. In Scotland he was given the role of naming the king and the coronation ceremony was held in the Church of Iona. They wrote with birds feathers. but 200 years later the Danes destroyed the monastery. and he died shortly after midnight on June 9. They fashioned books from small blocks of wood covered with beeswax and made paper from animal skins. the King of the Irish Scots of Dal Riada. They travelled to the mainland and the nearby Scottish islands and the north of England teaching and preaching. Colum Cille had a powerful influence on the lives of the people he served. and continued to flourish in spite of the . and his success at securing for women exemption from all military service. They lived by growing crops and keeping sheep and cattle and by fishing in the sea. It is now in the Royal Irish Academy. Colum Cille eventually added a library to house all their books and a 'scriptorium' to do their writings. including Anglo-Saxons of the 11th century. 597. When Colum Cille arrived on Iona he built a monastery and a church together with huts for he and his followers to live in. With Colum Cille's influence the Scots became a strong and united people. Colum Cille returned to Iona. the ink made from dye taken from plants. Known as the “Columban Order”. During all these years Colum Cille kept close contact with Ireland. in his role as chief ecclesiastical ruler. where they were visited by pilgrims. Writing was very important to Colum Cille and he taught all his monks to write. He was originally buried in Iona. a veto of a proposal to abolish the order of bards. and the Abbot Cellach of Iona transferred his residence and insular primacy to Kells.Colum Cille landed in the island of (Hy )Iona in 563 and there he established his famous monastery. Aidan. Conal was a cousin of Colum Cille's who came from North Antrim. which henceforward became the acknowledged head of the Columban houses.) It is said that Iona was given to Colum Cille by Conal. but his health began to fail in 593. was made for the Cathach. For this reason Colum Cille is called the Apostle of Scotland. (Legend has it that a shrine. the island of Iona came under the attacks of the violent Norsemen. It is the oldest surviving manuscript of the psalms. In 575 he was at the synod of Drumceatt in County Meath in company with King Conall's successor. Shortly after the burning of Iona by the Danes in 802. whom he had helped to place on the throne and had crowned at Iona. Thereupon a "new religious city" — the old one being probably in ruins — was rebuilt in Kells. After the Treaty of Limerick 1691. and the monastery was abandoned. During this and the two following centuries Kells became a great school of learning and art.

Kells fell under the attacks of the Vikings. through the agency of Henry Jones. when land charters pertaining to the Abbey of Kells were copied onto some of its blank pages. the final abbot of the monastery in Kells. had its marvellous cover made in his own house. The celebrated Cathach. most likely a relative of the last abbot. gained ownership of The Book of Kells. The passions that ran high during the height of the English Reformation led to the Book of Kells being vouchsafed for protection by the Catholic Church in 1541. who was always referred to as "the successor of Colum Cille". Richard Plunket. Charles Lambert. It contained a psaltery said to have been written by the hand of Columba himself. in the interests of its safety. a lot of information is not known about Geralde Plunket. went back to the monastery on Iona to retrieve valuable items that remained there. the church at Kells lay in ruins. A few years later it reached Trinity College. upon the dissolution of the monastery. upon his receiving of The Book of Kells. Following the rebellion of 1641. Originally. when he became Bishop of Meath in 1661. the battle-standard of the O'Donnells. one of the earliest . In the late 11th and 12th centuries. The church of the Kells was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times over this period. The practice of copying of charters into important books was widespread in the mediaeval period. Mac Robartaigh. Oliver Cromwell chose the church as a garrison for his troops. Finally. On certain pages. a former scoutmaster general to Cromwell’s army in Ireland and Vice-Chancellor of the University. and a sod over it. In between the above. in 878. This was the chief relic of the western world on account of the singular cover. and his ownership of The Book of Kells is sometimes contested. was preserved in the monastry and enshrined there in a beautifully wrought casket. it is believed that The Book of Kells fell into the hands of Geralde Plunket. But. Comharb of Kells.” Regardless. the abbot of Iona. Earl of Cavan. and around 1653 when the Parliamentarian. Over the next 120 years. This Gospel was found in twenty nights and two months. art historians and paleographers thought that James Usher. the book was sent to Dublin by the governor of Kells. It is thought that the book of Kells was one of these "precious objects of Colum Cille" that were brought back to Kells. with its gold stolen off. It finally and forever returned to Ireland in the seventeenth century. Then. there is writing that is initialed "GP" and it gives the number of pages that were present.“Anno Domini 1006 (alias 1007) . blank pages and spaces on folios 5v-7v and 27r were used to record property transactions relating to the monastery at Kells. as indicated by a poem added in the 15th century to folio 289v. It remained at Kells throughout the Middle Ages. and such inscriptions in the Book of Kells provide concrete evidence about its location at the time. The first mention of The Book Of Kells in history was in the Annals of Ulster .The great Gospel of Columb-kille was sacrilegiously stolen by night out of the western porticus of the great church of Kells.frequent ravages of the Danes. the book was certainly at Kells in the 12th century.

Finally. The second possibility is that the work was begun in Iona and then completed in Kells. gives five possible explanations of the history of The Book of Kells that art historians have been debating for years. where the artwork was worked on. the donator of The Book of Durrow. The final possibility that Henry gives is that The Book Kells was a product of a Scottish monastery and somehow found its way to Kells over the years. Unfortunately.students of Trinity College and eventual Vice Chancellor of the University of Dublin. There is another tradition. Bishop of Meath. But. The next possible explanation is that the work was done completely in Kells. Her fourth possibility is that The Book of Kells was written in Northern England (possibly Lindisfairne) and then brought to Iona and then Kells or even went straight to Kells. and one opened to show two text pages with smaller decorations. except for brief loans to other libraries and museums. Henry seems to believe that one of the Iona to Kells hypotheses fits best based on the on the features of the book. She says that the decoration of the book is very similar to a lot of the metal work that was found in these areas. and then brought the incomplete work to Kells. Australia. and passed it on to the Trinity College Library. further evidence proved that James Usher never had The Book of Kells in his possession. This was only the fourth time the Book of Kells had been sent abroad for exhibition. but monks could have begun working on it one or two centuries beforehand. . the volume suffered what has been called "minor pigment damage" while en route to Canberra. and William Pallister. that suggests the manuscript was created for the 200th anniversary of the saint's death. solved the mystery of how The Book of Kells ended up at the Trinity College Library. It has been on display to the public in the Old Library at Trinity since the 19th century. for an exhibition of illuminated manuscripts. From these letters. one opened at a major decorated page. His clues were from the letters of Henry Jones. the keeper of the manuscripts in the Trinity College Library. a great benefactor to the library. with some traction among Irish scholars. It is thought that the vibrations from the plane's engines during the long flight may have caused the damage. William O'Sullivan. an art scholar who has done extensive studies on The Book of Kells. She dates the end of work on The Book of Kells somewhere between the end of the eighth century to the early ninth century. In 2000. It has remained in Trinity College since. Where and when was the Book of Kells written? Francoise Henry . but never actually completed. had The Book of Kells in his possession. the volume containing the Gospel of Mark was sent to Canberra. Two volumes can normally be seen displayed at Trinity. and Archbishop of Armagh. Henry Jones donated The Book of Kells. O'Sullivan was able to determine that. Her first explanation states that the monks of Iona wrote the text. like The Book of Durrow. when he died.

This page occurs in many other Insular Manuscripts. Matthew. Book of Kells – A Description Many art scholars have called The Book of Kells the greatest of Celtic manuscript illumination and possibly the greatest piece of Celtic art. a bookbinder trimmed some the pages almost an inch on each side. It has been rebound many times over the centuries. how would the artists know about the styles and iconography of these other cultures? It is suggested that the artists possibly visited the European continent and traveled as far as Egypt. which roughly correspond to four Gospels. In the Gospel according to St. stone carving. There is no better example from The Book of Kells that portrays these words of art historians better than the ChiRho monogram page. by Roger Powell into four volumes. One artist was possibly responsible for works such as the Chi-Rho monogram. Many scholars believe that one of the reasons it survived through the centuries is that it was not meant for everyday use or study. This page has become known as the Chi-Rho monogram page. metal work. The Book of Kells originally contained 370 folios. and in the nineteenth century. Many believe that cultures that located much further east than the British Isles. The other artist was responsible much of the other illuminations of the manuscript such as the portraits of the other gospel writers. the eight circled cross. which gives the genealogy of Jesus Christ. as it is displayed in the Trinity College Library. and a smaller I. losing some of the artwork forever. and the portrait of Mark. Today. a smaller P. Today. but as a piece of sacred art that could appear on the altar for special occasions. but they cannot compare to the intricate decoration of The Book of Kells. many pages have been lost. following the Book of Generation. there is a highly decorated which contains a large X. It is thought that the artists were experts in many types of art such as book illustration. there are very few . from where they would have gotten the cross-armed Osiris (Egyptian god of the dead) whose pose is seen in some illustrations of Christ. Over the years.How many artists produced the Book of Kells? Many scholars believe that there were most likely two main artists who decorated The Book of Kells. and possibly even mural painting. for example the Egyptian and Carolingian influenced these artists. it was rebound. it only measures 33 cm X 24 cm. Its original dimensions were most likely 37 cm X 26 cm on glazed calf vellum. But. Throughout The Book of Kells. In 1953. The letters XPI are the Greek abbreviation for the word "Christi" or Christ. it contains 340 folios or 680 pages. most likely due to the Viking raids and its theft from the stone church of Kells in 1006. which is 740 individual pages.

The larger spirals have four spiral lines between the outlines. They are both holding both holding books in one hand and scepters that seem to blossom at the end. Only. Most likely. while the smaller ones have two or three lines in between the outlines. but it also contains animal and human forms whose meanings have been interpreted by many art historians. The first beginning is the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Some art historians see these representations as having separate meanings. The spirals consist of small and large. Sir Edward Sullivan. and now. Only one wing is present on each angel but it is in an undulating wave pattern. The animals must have had some significance because they were placed on such a prestigious page. some connected by peltas. by placing the mundus tetragonus inside the X. which are much like lacertine except they are only geometric and do not contain humans or animals. extremely sacred names are abbreviated and it is thought that this was a method for emphasizing the sacredness of these people. which contain animals. Some of the simpler interpretations that have been given are the animals being all of God's creatures. which all seem to be measured and placed perfectly in a strategic manner. there are four groups of sixteen small diamonds. the triskeles that are so prevalent in Celtic Art. and above them are two moths. Therefore. on the left of the X. spiral. Otto-Karl Werckmeister has interpreted these figures to represent the mundus tetragonus. and is also a major color in the rest of the designs found on the page. said to be the second beginning in the Gospel of Matthew. it symbolizes Christ as being the creator of the world. which are either humans or animals involved in a complex pattern of knots. The two angels face each other as if they are floating much like two angels that are depicted in an earlier page of the manuscript holding a medallion. since the days of the Roman Empire. On the inside of the letters. and interlace patterns. there are two pictures. Also. Also. Not only does the background of the page contain some of the most complex spiral patterns of all Celtic Art. and Otto-Karl Werckmeister have their own interpretations of these representations. while others see these representations all coming together to create a bigger picture. The third angel is holding two trefoil scepters and is not as close together as the other two. and intertwined in the knots are four men. in the center of the X. In each diamond. which have been identified as angels. there are very intricate lacertine patterns. including Francoise Henry. The background of the page contains a multitude of trumpet. But. There is an intense maze of knots. and of course. the representations were very significant to the original viewers but the meanings were lost over time. many other art historians. Two of the angels that are on the left side of the X are configured so that they are facing each other. lacertine. This monogram page serves as the second beginning. when only the emperor could wear or afford purple clothing. the Chi-Rho page has a large variety of sizes of spirals. there is some of the most masterful lacertine of the whole page. which makes it very decorative. Also. In the lower section of the page. which is the birth of Jesus Christ. This color refers to the royalty of Jesus Christ as king of the Heaven. The scepters are . All of the spirals remain in close contact with the letters in an extremely tightcoiling. Purple outlines the XPI. In the center of the X. there are three figures.names that are abbreviated. or all of the animals giving praise to the creator. in which four men are placed at each corner of the Earth. Purple has been a sign of royalty. the only thing that anyone is able to do is speculate. where it creates a rhombic shape. and interlace patterns. there is a picture of a key possibly symbolizing the key to salvation is Jesus Christ. Compared to the other Insular Manuscripts.

Henry uses these images to create a bigger picture but also. he states that the figures were rats eating some kind of bread. It seems as though there is a significance of the number three in this part of the work. she refutes the interpretation of many art historians who have come before her. She draws this conclusion based on the fact that the larger cats are holding the smaller ones by the tails. all these . Towards the bottom of the page. Otto-Karl Werckmeister uses all these animal figures to support his mundus tetragonus hypothesis. she states that the moths are representative of death and resurrection. and the fate that awaits them (cats). But. most likely the Eucharist. which contains the genealogy of Jesus Christ. It combines some of the greatest Celtic art of the period. and. But. many other historians give the interpretation that the cats are watching mice nibbling on the host or Eucharist. He sees these animals representing the three elements of the world of which Jesus Christ is the creator. which come to three points. Sally Mussetter. Most believe that the significance of the otter lies in that story. it combines all the typical motifs of the Celtic art and bring them all together in one work. With all symbols coming together on this page. Under the P and I. Suzanne Lewis sees the bread that the animals are nibbling as the Eucharist.O. the entire Christ event is present on this on page. two moths are situated head-to-head. much like a mother cat would hold and keep track of her kittens. and she is actually depicted wearing a lozenge shaped brooch earlier in the manuscript. G. and Holy Spirit). As mentioned earlier. Also. but the communion is redeeming the mice. she interprets the fish that is in the otter's mouth as the sign of Christ.masterfully woven through the wings of the angel. Like Simms. with a diamond shape in their mouths. she interprets the fish in the mouth of the otter to be a symbol for Christ. the trinity has not yet been established. Also. Finally. As one can clearly see The Book of Kells is truly a masterpiece. The symbol of the otter is very old in Irish myth. like Suzanne Lewis. Like Sir Edward Sullivan. earth by the cats. with one of the greatest pieces of literature in the whole world. water by the otter. Finally. but he gives it some deeper Christological meaning. Henry says that the smaller figures are not mice but kittens. she calls the diamond shape in the mouths of the moths a lozenge. It began with the story of the recluse monk who used to receive a fish a day from a friendly otter. Also. two large cats are seen along with four smaller animals. Sullivan has interprets this picture similar to Simms. He states that this scene was perhaps an incident that occurred at some point in the monastery where the artwork was done. He adds to this interpretation the possible allusion to unworthy receivers of the Eucharist (mice). Finally. Simms interprets this as cats watching four mice nibble on the Eucharist. Son. Air is represented by the moths. in the top left swirl of the X. two of which are holding a white disc in their mouths. This lozenge is a symbol of the Virgin Mary. the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. Therefore. who is waiting for the human sinners (mice). which has been so since the dawn of Christianity. another art historian. sees the cats as the devil. The most likely conclusion to which one would come is that it represents the Christian Trinity (Father. she interprets them as faithful Christians partaking in the Eucharist. there is a small black animal with a fish in its mouth This animal has been identified as an otter. and in the case of the Chi-Rho monogram page. The viewer sees three angels and one of the angels is holding two scepters. as it was still somewhat early in the Christian history.

. Its primary purpose was its illustrations and it would have been placed on the High Altar. no two illustrations are the same and almost every gap in the text has been filled with intricately detailed pictures. Or pigment (yellow arsenic sulphide) was used to produce a vibrant yellow pigment. a testament of the artists love of God. comments: " The finest draftsmen of the entire world have tried to recreate the Chi-Rho page. What pigments did the Book of Kells artists use? A range of pigments was employed. Red came from red lead or from organic sources which are difficult at present to identify. it was never intended to be used as a teaching document as so many texts of that period were. was responsible for perforating the vellum on a number of folios. reacting with damp." It takes an indescribable artist working in the middle ages to create something that some one in today's modern world could not Research in Trinity College Library Dublin has indicated that blue from lapis lazuli was probably not used in the manuscript as had previously been thought.motifs are scene on one page. The artists employed a technique of adding as many as three pigments on top of a base layer. including blue made from indigo or woad. A copper green. complexity. Some decorations can only be seen with a magnifying glass. native to northern Europe. In fact it is littered with mistakes and incomplete lines. But. in one inchsquare of paper. each one edged in black. it is not just the fact that all these motifs appear together. If there are any inaccuracies in this summary of the Book of Kells please let us know by emailing info@kellsonline. and have failed. The skill of the illustrators who worked on the Book of Kells is awe-inspiring. Sir Edward Sullivan. one of the pieces incorporates 158 interlaced and intertwining white ribbons. but the quality. and quantity in which they appear. The Book of Kells was a homage to God.

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