folio 124r

folio 124r (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Book of Kells has exploded onto the digital stage and is challenging St. Patrick as an Irish icon.The St. Patrick’s Day  website of Trinity College, the University of Dublin announces that everyone may now experience the Book of Kells online, for free, in its new Digital Collections.

  • The Book of Kells for I-pad, released in December, 2012 is a top seller in Apple stores. Anyone can buy a copy of the priceless manuscript.

Early History  After St. Patrick established the first Christian mission in Ireland in the fifth century, Irish monasteries spread their spiritual and cultural influence far and wide.

  • Celtic monks living on the Isle of Iona created a 680-page manuscript of the Four Gospels (Latiin Vulgate version) early in the ninth century. At the same time, it codified their entire civilization.
  • The sacred Word of God had a gold cover and was designed to sit on the altar at the high holidays of the Christian year.
  • Vikings raided and savaged the monks’ colony; the surviving monks fled to Kells, County Meath in Ireland.
  • Thieves stole the book, ripped off its cover and buried it in a bog 1,000 years ago.
  • When found months later, the Annals of Ulster called it “the greatest relic of western civilization”.  No one challenges that description today.
  • The Roman Catholic church took it for safekeeping in the 16th century, then brought it to Dublin 100 years later.

The Art  Four extremely talented artists, one of them from the Mediterranean, worked together with 50 or so assistants, researchers believe.

  • The monks wrote on vellum prepared from the slaughter of 185 calves and used ten vibrant pigments, some from distant lands. A purple-brown-black ink was made from iron salts and local vegetable sources, such as oak apples (galls).
  • Mind-boggling in complexity and ornamentation, the book combines figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts with Celtic knot-work and interlace. Motifs swirl, letters evolve into pictures and pictures into letters.
  • Along with technical know-how and Christian iconography, the monks had fun. A letter M is two monks pulling each other’s beards; an  illustrated rhyme compares a writer choosing words to his cat chasing mice.
  • The lavish, intricate, minute, illuminated art and calligraphy overwhelm even the Holy Script.

Update  Since the mid 1800’s, the book has been on display, now bound into four volumes of 33 x 25-cm pages. It has some water damage, is extremely fragile and has lost substantial pigment. The folios bend or contract if the temperature changes the least bit, threatening adhesion of the colors.

  • In 1989 Facsimile-Verlag Lucern published a limited edition of 1480 copies (740 reserved for the British Isles). Two copies, valued at $18,000 each, were presented to Texas Christian University and Austin College in 1990.
  • In March 2012, 120 people came to a lecture on the Book of Kells at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, VT.  At the University of Dublin, Professor Roger Stalley debunked the idea that the book was created in quiet seclusion.
  • Simon Worrall published The Book of Kells: Copulating Cats and Holy Men, a highly entertaining, informative, short book, in 2012.
  • We traveled to Ireland in 2013. Check the ‘Home’ tab above to read the blogs and look at the pictures of the tower and graveyard we explored.
  • Hay Festival Kells, in County Meath, will return for a third edition in 2015, from 26 to 28 June.

The energy, wit and beauty of the pages carry a Saint Patrick’s Day message of  irrepressible joy into hearts, a living celebration of the culture and heritage of the Irish Celts.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

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