Ireland, land of hidden pots of gold is home to a treasure of far greater spiritual import – a book so beautiful it has come to be regarded as one of the greatest examples of Western calligraphy to date and a prime example of the fruits of fervent religious devotion.
The Book of Kells is a Gospel book written in Latin. It contains the New Testament’s 4 Gospels and an assortment of additional texts and tables.
The book was created in Ireland and is believed to have been crafted by various members of British and Irish Columban institutions around 800 AD.
What makes it special?
Although the calligraphy is perfect and worthy of praise, it is the books incredible collection of illustrations that make it so valuable.
Creatures of myth and members of the animal kingdom converge on its pages in stunning clarity and minute detail. Beautiful Celtic knots weave unbelievably ornate patterns on the tough vellum pages of the tome and vivid, entrancing colors bring it to life with peerless artistry.
The manuscript’s many illustrations incorporate notable Christian themes and symbolism as well – making the entire work one of otherworldly charm.
Illustrations in the Book of Kells used the finest of inks, made from many rare substances that had to have been imported at the time.
The book itself is bound in 4 separate volumes and includes 340 folios.
Where was it written and kept?
The book seems to have been kept at the Abbey of Kells near Dublin from the late medieval period through to the 1650’s, hence the name.
No one knows precisely where the bulk of the book was written and the scribes involved in creating it remain largely a mystery. This may be due in large part to the many raids of the Abbey of Kells by Vikings throughout the 10th century.
The pillaging Vikings left the book there for quite some time, but stole it from its shrine in 1006 according to a reference in the Annals of Ulster. Somehow, the manuscript was returned coverless after 2 months time. To this day, it is missing two illustrations; one at the beginning and one at the end.
At this point, after a long and arduous history of creation and safekeeping, the book is kept in Trinity College in Dublin, the place it has been since 1661.