What is the Book of Kells?
The Book of Kells (Latin: Codex Cenannensis; Irish: Leabhar Cheanannais; Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS AI , sometimes known as the Book of Columba) is an illuminated Latin Gospel manuscript, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament along with various preliminary texts and tables.
Date of creation
It was created in a Colombian monastery in Scotland, England or Ireland and may have had contributions from various Colombian institutions in each of these areas. I know believe it was created c. 800 AD The text of the Gospels is drawn largely from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages taken from earlier versions of the Bible known as Vetus Latina.
Style of the work
It is a masterpiece of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of the Insular lighting. It is also widely regarded as one of the best
National treasures of Ireland. The manuscript takes its name from Kells Abbey, which it was their home for centuries.
The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass those of other books of the Insular Gospel in extravagance and complexity. The decoration combines the Traditional Christian iconography with ornamental swirl motifs typical of island art. Figures of mythical humans, animals and beasts, along with knots Celts and interlocking patterns in vibrant colors enliven the manuscript pages.
Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with symbolism Christianity and thus further emphasize the themes of the main illustrations.
Of very broad content
Today the manuscript consists of 340 leaves or folios; the front and back of each sheet they total 680 pages. Since 1953, it has been bound in four volumes, 330 mm by 250 mm (13 inches by 9.8 inches). The leaves are high veal vellum quality; the unprecedented elaborate ornamentation that covers them includes ten full page illustrations and text pages that are vibrant with initials decorated and interlinear miniatures, which mark the furthest extent of the anti-classical and energetic qualities of island art.
Work of different authors
The insular capital script of the text appears to be the work of at least three scribes different. The letters are in iron gall ink and the colors used were derived of a wide range of substances, some of which were imported from land far away.
Today, it is housed in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, which generally has two of the current four volumes on display at any one time, one that shows an important illustration and the other shows typical text pages. A digitized version of the full manuscript can also be viewed online.
Purpose of the book
The book had a sacramental rather than educational purpose. Such a great gospel and luxurious would have been left on the main altar of the church and removed only for the reading the gospel during mass, and the reader would probably recite from memory more than reading the text.
It is significant that the Ulster Chronicles claim that the book was stolen from the sacristy, where the vessels and other supplies of the Mass were kept, instead of the monastic library. Its design seems to take this purpose into account; that is, the book was produced with appearance over practicality.
There are numerous uncorrected errors in the text. The lines were often completed in a blank space on the line above. The chapter headings that were necessary for the canon tables to be usable were not inserted in the margins of the page. In general, nothing was done to alter the appearance of the page: priority to aesthetics over utility.