The Book of Kells

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During the dark ages the arts of bookmaking, illustration and manuscript illumination were preserved in remote Irish abbeys. A number of unique, exquisite books remain from this period, masterpieces of world art. This includes the ninth century Book of Kells, a manuscript of the Gospel richly illustrated with Celtic motifs and deep symbolism (sacred-texts.com). The Book of Kells, also lesser known as the Book of Columba, it was nicknamed that because it was written in the monastery of Iona to honor the saint. The Book of Kells is one of the most recognized and most remarkable artifacts of medieval Celtic art. The book contains lavish, colorful lettering and illuminations. Many of the current Celtic art we see nowadays are based solely on the Book of Kells. According to tradition, the book is a relic from the time of Columba (d. 597) and even the work of his hands, but, on paleographic grounds and judging by the character of the ornamentation, this tradition cannot be sustained, and the date of the composition of the book can hardly be placed earlier than the end of the seventh or beginning of the eighth century (newadvent.com).

The Book of Kells was produced in a monastery on the Isle of Iona, Scotland. It was written to honor Saint Columba in the early 8th century. However, after a Viking raid the book was moved to Kells, Ireland in the 9th century. It was stolen once again in the 11th century, at which time its cover was torn off and it was thrown into a ditch. The cover, which most likely included gold and gems, has never been found. The book suffered some water damage; but nonetheless was still exceedingly well-preserved. In 1541, at the height of the English Reformation, the book was taken once more by the Roman Catholic Church for safekeeping. It was only returned to Ireland in the 17th century. Archbishop James Ussher gave it to Trinity College, Dublin. Trinity College is still home to the book today. The Book of Kells contains the complete text of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and John. The Gospel of John only goes through John 17:13. The remainder of John and an unknown amount of the beginning pages is missing. It was most likely lost when the book was stolen in the early eleventh century. The beginning pages consisted of two lists of the Hebrew names that are contained in the gospels, the Breves causae and the Argumenta of the four gospels, and the Eusebian canon tables. It is also highly probable that part of the lost beginning pages might have included the letter of Jerome to Pope Damasus I. The letter was known as Novum opus, in which Jerome explains the purpose of his translation. It is also possible that the lost pages may have included the letter of Eusebius, known as Plures fuisse. The letter of Eusebius explains the use of the canon tables. The four gospels as located in the Book of Kells are based on the Vulgate. However, the Book of Kells is not a straight copy of the Vulgate, because they used some old Latin translations over Jerome’s text. Although, the translation changes in the text were very common in most gospels at the time. The only problem was that most of the gospels did not use the same variations in the text. For many of the gospels they are thought to have been written primarily from memory rather than from the standard. Researchers have found to believe that there are three different writers to have written the Book of Kells. However, medieval artists were known to use themselves as models on occasion. One scholar has even theorized that the nine apostles, who are depicted on page 202, just might be the book's creators. It contains 678 illustrated calf-skin or vellum pages with the last two being without illustration. It was written in colorful inks that were made from the monks. Some of the inks come from all over the continent. The inks have yet to fade, in all of 1000 years. Only two of its 680 pages are without color. Not intended...
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