Book of Kells
Overview
The Book of Kells (Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS A. I. (58), sometimes known as the Book of Columba) is an illuminated manuscript
Illuminated manuscript
An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders and miniature illustrations...

 Gospel book
Gospel Book
The Gospel Book, Evangelion, or Book of the Gospels is a codex or bound volume containing one or more of the four Gospels of the Christian New Testament...

 in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, containing the four Gospels
Gospel
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

 of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created by Celtic monks
Celtic Christianity
Celtic Christianity or Insular Christianity refers broadly to certain features of Christianity that were common, or held to be common, across the Celtic-speaking world during the Early Middle Ages...

 ca. 800 or slightly earlier. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate
Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina
Vetus Latina
Vetus Latina is a collective name given to the Biblical texts in Latin that were translated before St Jerome's Vulgate Bible became the standard Bible for Latin-speaking Western Christians. The phrase Vetus Latina is Latin for Old Latin, and the Vetus Latina is sometimes known as the Old Latin Bible...

.
Encyclopedia
The Book of Kells (Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS A. I. (58), sometimes known as the Book of Columba) is an illuminated manuscript
Illuminated manuscript
An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders and miniature illustrations...

 Gospel book
Gospel Book
The Gospel Book, Evangelion, or Book of the Gospels is a codex or bound volume containing one or more of the four Gospels of the Christian New Testament...

 in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, containing the four Gospels
Gospel
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

 of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created by Celtic monks
Celtic Christianity
Celtic Christianity or Insular Christianity refers broadly to certain features of Christianity that were common, or held to be common, across the Celtic-speaking world during the Early Middle Ages...

 ca. 800 or slightly earlier. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate
Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina
Vetus Latina
Vetus Latina is a collective name given to the Biblical texts in Latin that were translated before St Jerome's Vulgate Bible became the standard Bible for Latin-speaking Western Christians. The phrase Vetus Latina is Latin for Old Latin, and the Vetus Latina is sometimes known as the Old Latin Bible...

. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination
Insular art
Insular art, also known as Hiberno-Saxon art, is the style of art produced in the post-Roman history of Ireland and Great Britain. The term derives from insula, the Latin term for "island"; in this period Britain and Ireland shared a largely common style different from that of the rest of Europe...

. It is also widely regarded as Ireland's finest national treasure.

The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospel books in extravagance and complexity. The decoration combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art
Insular art
Insular art, also known as Hiberno-Saxon art, is the style of art produced in the post-Roman history of Ireland and Great Britain. The term derives from insula, the Latin term for "island"; in this period Britain and Ireland shared a largely common style different from that of the rest of Europe...

. Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, together with Celtic knot
Celtic knot
Celtic knots are a variety of knots and stylized graphical representations of knots used for decoration, used extensively in the Celtic style of Insular art. These knots are most known for their adaptation for use in the ornamentation of Christian monuments and manuscripts, such as the 8th-century...

s and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours, enliven the manuscript's pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasise the themes of the major illustrations.

The manuscript today comprises 340 folios and, since 1953, has been bound in four volumes. The leaves are on high-quality calf vellum
Vellum
Vellum is mammal skin prepared for writing or printing on, to produce single pages, scrolls, codices or books. It is generally smooth and durable, although there are great variations depending on preparation, the quality of the skin and the type of animal used...

, and the unprecedentedly elaborate ornamentation that covers them includes ten full-page illustrations and text pages that are vibrant with decorated initial
Initial
In a written or published work, an initial is a letter at the beginning of a work, a chapter, or a paragraph that is larger than the rest of the text. The word is derived from the Latin initialis, which means standing at the beginning...

s and interlinear miniatures and mark the furthest extension of the anti-classical and energetic qualities of Insular art. The Insular majuscule script of the text itself appears to be the work of at least three different scribes. The lettering is in iron gall ink, and the colours used were derived from a wide range of substances, many of which were imports from distant lands.

The manuscript takes its name from the Abbey of Kells
Abbey of Kells
The Abbey of Kells is a former monastery located in Kells, County Meath, Ireland, 40 miles north of Dublin. It was founded in the early ninth century, and the Book of Kells was kept there during the later medieval and early modern periods before finally leaving the Abbey in the 1650s...

 that was its home for centuries. Today, it is on permanent display at the Trinity College Library, Dublin
Trinity College Library, Dublin
Trinity College Library Dublin, the centrally-administered library of Trinity College, Dublin, is the largest library in Ireland. As a "copyright library", it has legal deposit rights for material published in the Republic of Ireland; it is also the only Irish library to hold such rights for the...

. The library usually displays two of the current four volumes at a time, one showing a major illustration and the other showing typical text pages.

Origin

The Book of Kells is the most famous, and one of the finest of a group of manuscripts in what is known as the Insular style
Insular art
Insular art, also known as Hiberno-Saxon art, is the style of art produced in the post-Roman history of Ireland and Great Britain. The term derives from insula, the Latin term for "island"; in this period Britain and Ireland shared a largely common style different from that of the rest of Europe...

, produced from the late 6th through the early 9th centuries in monasteries
Monastery
Monastery denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer as well as the domestic quarters and workplace of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone .Monasteries may vary greatly in size – a small dwelling accommodating only...

 in Ireland, Scotland and England and in continental monasteries with Hiberno-Scottish
Hiberno-Scottish mission
The Hiberno-Scottish mission was a mission led by Irish and Scottish monks which spread Christianity and established monasteries in Great Britain and continental Europe during the Middle Ages...

 or Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon mission
Anglo-Saxon missionaries were instrumental in the spread of Christianity in the Frankish Empire during the 8th century, continuing the work of Hiberno-Scottish missionaries which had been spreading Celtic Christianity across the Frankish Empire as well as in Scotland and Anglo-Saxon England itself...

 foundations. These manuscripts include the Cathach of St. Columba
Cathach of St. Columba
The Cathach of St. Columba is an late 6th century Irish Psalter.It is traditionally associated with St. Columba , and was identified as the copy made by him of a book loaned to him by St. Finnian, and which led to the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561...

, the Ambrosiana Orosius, a fragmentary Gospel in the Durham cathedral library (all from the early 7th century), and the Book of Durrow
Book of Durrow
The Book of Durrow is a 7th-century illuminated manuscript gospel book in the Insular style. It was probably created between 650 and 700, in Northumbria in Northern England, where Lindisfarne or Durham would be the likely candidates, or on the island of Iona in the Scottish Inner Hebrides...

 (from the second half of the 7th century). From the early 8th century come the Durham Gospels
Durham Gospels
The Durham Gospels is a very incomplete late 7th century insular Gospel Book, now kept in the Durham Cathedral Library . A single folio of this manuscript is now in Magdalene College, Cambridge . Only two of the fully decorated pages survive: a Crucifixion and the initial to John, and both of...

, the Echternach Gospels
Echternach Gospels
The Echternach Gospels is an 8th-century insular Gospel Book from the library of the monastery of Echternach, Luxembourg. It is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris . The manuscript was written by the same scribe that wrote the Durham Gospels.-References:* De Hamel, Christopher. A History...

, the Lindisfarne Gospels
Lindisfarne Gospels
The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated Latin manuscript of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the British Library...

 (see illustration at right), and the Lichfield Gospels
Lichfield Gospels
The Lichfield Gospels is an eighth century Insular Gospel Book housed in Lichfield Cathedral. There are 236 surviving folios, eight of which are illuminated. Another four contain framed text...

. Among others, the St. Gall Gospel Book
St. Gall Gospel Book
The St. Gall Gospel Book is a medieval insular Gospel Book. It is now in the Abbey of St. Gall cathedral library . It has 134 folios. Amongst its illustrations are a Crucifixion, a Last Judgement, a Chi Rho monogram page, a carpet page, and Evangelist portraits....

 belongs to the late 8th century and the Book of Armagh
Book of Armagh
The Book of Armagh or Codex Ardmachanus , also known as the Canon of Patrick and the Liber Armachanus, is a 9th-century Irish manuscript written mainly in Latin. It is held by the Library of Trinity College, Dublin...

 (dated to 807–809) to the early 9th century. Scholars place these manuscripts together based on similarities in artistic style, script, and textual traditions. The fully developed style of the ornamentation of the Book of Kells places it late in this series, either from the late 8th or early 9th century. The Book of Kells follows many of the iconographic and stylistic traditions found in these earlier manuscripts. For example, the form of the decorated letters found in the incipit
Incipit
Incipit is a Latin word meaning "it begins". The incipit of a text, such as a poem, song, or book, is the first few words of its opening line. In music, it can also refer to the opening notes of a composition. Before the development of titles, texts were often referred to by their incipits...

 pages for the Gospels is surprisingly consistent in Insular Gospels. Compare, for example, the incipit pages of the Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

 in the Lindisfarne Gospels and in the Book of Kells, both of which feature intricate decorative knot work patterns inside the outlines formed by the enlarged initial letters of the text. (For a more complete list of related manuscripts, see: List of Hiberno-Saxon illustrated manuscripts).

The name Book of Kells is derived from the Abbey of Kells
Abbey of Kells
The Abbey of Kells is a former monastery located in Kells, County Meath, Ireland, 40 miles north of Dublin. It was founded in the early ninth century, and the Book of Kells was kept there during the later medieval and early modern periods before finally leaving the Abbey in the 1650s...

 in Kells, County Meath
Kells, County Meath
Kells is a town in County Meath, Ireland. The town lies off the M3 motorway, from Navan and from Dublin. In recent years Kells has grown greatly with many Dublin commuters moving to the town....

, which was its home for much of the medieval period. The date and place of production of the manuscript have been the subject of considerable debate. Traditionally, the book was thought to have been created in the time of Columba, possibly even as the work of his own hands. This tradition has long been discredited on paleographic and stylistic grounds: most evidence points to a composition date ca. 800, long after St. Columba's death in 597. The proposed dating in the 9th century coincides with Viking raids
Viking expansion
The Vikings sailed most of the North Atlantic, reaching south to North Africa and east to Russia, Constantinople and the Middle East, as looters, traders, colonists, and mercenaries...

 on Iona
Iona
Iona is a small island in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. It was a centre of Irish monasticism for four centuries and is today renowned for its tranquility and natural beauty. It is a popular tourist destination and a place for retreats...

, which began in 794 and eventually dispersed the monks and their holy relics into Ireland and Scotland. There is another tradition, with some traction among Irish scholars, that suggests the manuscript was created for the 200th anniversary of the saint's death.

The manuscript was never finished. There are at least five competing theories about the manuscript's place of origin and time of completion. First, the book, or perhaps just the text, may have been created at Iona
Iona Abbey
Iona Abbey is located on the Isle of Iona, just off the Isle of Mull on the West Coast of Scotland. It is one of the oldest and most important religious centres in Western Europe. The abbey was a focal point for the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland and marks the foundation of a monastic...

, then brought to Kells, where the illuminations were perhaps added, and never finished. Second, the book may have been produced entirely at Iona. Third, the manuscript may have been produced entirely in the scriptorium
Scriptorium
Scriptorium, literally "a place for writing", is commonly used to refer to a room in medieval European monasteries devoted to the copying of manuscripts by monastic scribes...

 at Kells. Fourth, it may have been produced in the north of England, perhaps at Lindisfarne
Lindisfarne
Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the north-east coast of England. It is also known as Holy Island and constitutes a civil parish in Northumberland...

, then brought to Iona and from there to Kells. Finally, it may have been the product of an unknown monastery in Pictish Scotland, though there is no actual evidence for this theory, especially considering the absence of any surviving manuscript from Pictland. Although the question of the exact location of the book's production will probably never be answered conclusively, the first theory, that it was begun at Iona and continued at Kells, is currently widely accepted. Regardless of which theory is true, it is certain that the Book of Kells was produced by Columban monks closely associated with the community at Iona.

Medieval period

Kells Abbey was plundered and pillaged by Vikings many times in the 10th century, and how the book survived there is not known. The earliest historical reference to the book, and indeed to the book's presence at Kells, can be found in a 1007 entry in the Annals of Ulster
Annals of Ulster
The Annals of Ulster are annals of medieval Ireland. The entries span the years between AD 431 to AD 1540. The entries up to AD 1489 were compiled in the late 15th century by the scribe Ruaidhrí Ó Luinín, under his patron Cathal Óg Mac Maghnusa on the island of Belle Isle on Lough Erne in the...

. This entry records that "the great Gospel of Columkille, (Columba
Columba
Saint Columba —also known as Colum Cille , Colm Cille , Calum Cille and Kolban or Kolbjørn —was a Gaelic Irish missionary monk who propagated Christianity among the Picts during the Early Medieval Period...

) the chief relic of the Western World, was wickedly stolen during the night from the western sacristy of the great stone church at Cenannas on account of its wrought shrine". The manuscript was recovered a few months later—minus its golden and bejewelled cover—"under a sod
Sod
Sod or turf is grass and the part of the soil beneath it held together by the roots, or a piece of thin material.The term sod may be used to mean turf grown and cut specifically for the establishment of lawns...

". It is generally assumed that the "great Gospel of Columkille" is the Book of Kells. If this is correct, then the book was in Kells by 1007 and had been there long enough for thieves to learn of its presence. The force of ripping the manuscript free from its cover may account for the folios
Bookbinding
Bookbinding is the process of physically assembling a book from a number of folded or unfolded sheets of paper or other material. It usually involves attaching covers to the resulting text-block.-Origins of the book:...

 missing from the beginning and end of the Book of Kells. The description in the Annals of the book as "of Columkille"—that is, having belonged to, and perhaps being made by Columba—suggests that the book was believed at that time to have been made on Iona.

Regardless, the book was certainly at Kells in the 12th century, when land charters pertaining to the Abbey of Kells were copied onto some of its blank pages. The practice of copying of charters into important books was widespread in the medieval period, and such inscriptions in the Book of Kells provide concrete evidence about its location at the time.

The Abbey of Kells was dissolved due to the ecclesiastical reforms of the 12th century. The abbey church was converted to a parish church in which the Book of Kells remained.

Book of Kildare

The 12th-century writer Gerald of Wales, in his Topographia Hibernica, described in a famous passage seeing a great Gospel Book in Kildare
Kildare
-External links:*******...

 which many have since assumed was the Book of Kells. The description certainly matches Kells:
Since Gerald claims to have seen this book in Kildare, he may have seen another, now lost, book equal in quality to the Book of Kells, or he may have misstated his location.

Modern period

The Book of Kells remained in Kells until 1654. In that year, Cromwell's
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

 cavalry was quartered in the church at Kells, and the governor of the town sent the book to Dublin for safekeeping. Henry Jones, who later became bishop of Meath
Bishop of Meath
The Bishop of Meath is an episcopal title which takes its name after the ancient Kingdom of Meath. In the Roman Catholic Church it remains as a separate title, but in the Church of Ireland it has been united with another bishopric.-History:...

 after the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

, presented the manuscript to Trinity College in Dublin in 1661, where it has remained ever since, except for brief loans to other libraries and museums. It has been on display to the public in the Old Library at Trinity since the 19th century.

Over the years, the Book of Kells received several additions to its text. In the 16th century, one Gerald Plunkett of Dublin added a series of Roman numerals
Roman numerals
The numeral system of ancient Rome, or Roman numerals, uses combinations of letters from the Latin alphabet to signify values. The numbers 1 to 10 can be expressed in Roman numerals as:...

 numbering the chapters of the Gospels according to the division created by 13th-century Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

 Stephen Langton
Stephen Langton
Stephen Langton was Archbishop of Canterbury between 1207 and his death in 1228 and was a central figure in the dispute between King John of England and Pope Innocent III, which ultimately led to the issuing of Magna Carta in 1215...

. The prominent Anglican clergyman James Ussher
James Ussher
James Ussher was Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland between 1625–56...

 counted and numbered its folios in 1621, shortly after James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 named him Bishop of Meath
Bishop of Meath
The Bishop of Meath is an episcopal title which takes its name after the ancient Kingdom of Meath. In the Roman Catholic Church it remains as a separate title, but in the Church of Ireland it has been united with another bishopric.-History:...

. Queen Victoria
Victoria of the United Kingdom
Victoria was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. From 1 May 1876, she used the additional title of Empress of India....

 and Prince Albert were invited to sign the book in 1849; however, they in fact signed a modern flyleaf which was erroneously believed to have been one of the original folios. The page bearing their signatures was removed when the book was rebound in 1953.

Over the centuries, the book has been rebound several times. During an 18th-century rebinding, the pages were rather unsympathetically cropped, with small parts of some illustrations being lost. The book was also rebound in 1895, but that rebinding broke down quickly. By the late 1920s, several folios had detached completely and were kept separate from the main volume. In 1953, bookbinder Roger Powell
Roger Powell (bookbinder)
Roger Powell OBE was an English bookbinder.Powell was born in London. He was educated at Bedales School, of which his father was co-founder. He served as a signals officer in the Royal Flying Corps in World War I and then became a poultry farmer. In 1930 he began training as a bookbinder at the...

 rebound the manuscript in four volumes and stretched several pages that had developed bulges. Two volumes can normally be seen displayed at Trinity, one opened at a major decorated page, and one opened to show two text pages with smaller decorations.

In 2000, the volume containing the Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Mark
The Gospel According to Mark , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Mark or simply Mark, is the second book of the New Testament. This canonical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the three synoptic gospels. It was thought to be an epitome, which accounts for its place as the second...

 was sent to Canberra
Canberra
Canberra is the capital city of Australia. With a population of over 345,000, it is Australia's largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall. The city is located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory , south-west of Sydney, and north-east of Melbourne...

, Australia, for an exhibition of illuminated manuscripts. This was only the fourth time the Book of Kells had been sent abroad for exhibition. Unfortunately, the volume suffered what has been called "minor pigment damage" while en route to Canberra. It is thought that the vibrations from the aeroplane
Fixed-wing aircraft
A fixed-wing aircraft is an aircraft capable of flight using wings that generate lift due to the vehicle's forward airspeed. Fixed-wing aircraft are distinct from rotary-wing aircraft in which wings rotate about a fixed mast and ornithopters in which lift is generated by flapping wings.A powered...

's engines during the long flight may have caused the damage.

Reproductions

In 1951, the Swiss
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 publisher Urs Graf Verlag Bern produced the first facsimile
Facsimile
A facsimile is a copy or reproduction of an old book, manuscript, map, art print, or other item of historical value that is as true to the original source as possible. It differs from other forms of reproduction by attempting to replicate the source as accurately as possible in terms of scale,...

 of the Book of Kells. The majority of the pages were reproduced in black-and-white photographs, but the edition also featured forty-eight colour reproductions, including all of the full-page decorations. Under license from the Board of Trinity College Dublin, Thames and Hudson produced a second facsimile edition in 1974. This edition included all the full-page illustrations in the manuscript and a representative section of the ornamentation of the text pages, together with some enlarged details of the illustrations. The reproductions were all in full colour, with photography by John Kennedy, Green Studio, Dublin.

In 1979, Swiss publisher Faksimile-Verlag Luzern requested permission to produce a full-colour facsimile of the book. Permission was initially denied, because Trinity College officials felt that the risk of damage to the book was too high. By 1986, Faksimile-Verlag had developed a process that used gentle suction to straighten a page so that it could be photographed without touching it and so won permission to publish a new facsimile. After each page was photographed, a single-page facsimile was prepared so the colours could be carefully compared to the original and adjustments made where necessary. The completed work was published in 1990 in a two-volume set containing the full facsimile and scholarly commentary. One copy is held by the Anglican Church in Kells, on the site of the original monastery.

Mario Kleff also reproduced folios from the Book of Kells and together with Faksimile-Verlag Publisher Urs Düggelin, curated an exhibition of the Book of Kells which included these facsimile pages. These facsimiles were created using the original techniques and were also presented in the Diocesan Museum of Trier.

In 1994, Bernard Meehan, Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College Dublin, produced an introductory booklet on the Book of Kells, with 110 color images of the manuscript.

Description

The Book of Kells contains the four Gospels of the Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 scriptures written in black, red, purple, and yellow ink in an insular majuscule script, preceded by prefaces, summaries, and concordances of Gospel passages. Today, it consists of 340 vellum
Vellum
Vellum is mammal skin prepared for writing or printing on, to produce single pages, scrolls, codices or books. It is generally smooth and durable, although there are great variations depending on preparation, the quality of the skin and the type of animal used...

 leaves, or folios. The majority of the folios are part of larger sheets, called bifolios
Book folding
Book folding is the stage of the book production process in which the pages of the book are folded after printing and before binding.Until the middle 19th century, book folding was done by hand, and book folder was a trade...

, which are folded in half to form two folios. The bifolios are nested inside of each other and sewn together to form gatherings called quires. On occasion, a folio is not part of a bifolio but is instead a single sheet inserted within a quire. The extant folios are gathered into 38 quires. There are between four and twelve folios (two to six bifolios) per quire; the folios are commonly, but not invariably, bound in groups of ten. Some folios are single sheets, as is frequently the case with the important decorated pages. The folios had lines drawn for the text, sometimes on both sides, after the bifolios were folded. Prick marks and guide lines can still be seen on some pages. The vellum is of high quality, although the folios have an uneven thickness, with some being close to leather while others are so thin as to be almost translucent.

The book's current dimensions are 330 by 250 mm. Originally, the folios were of no standard size, but they were cropped to the current size during an 18th-century rebinding. The text area is approximately 250 by 170 mm. Each text page has 16 to 18 lines of text. The manuscript is in remarkably good condition considering its great age, though many pages have suffered some damage to the delicate artwork due to rubbing. The book must have been the product of a major scriptorium over several years, yet was apparently never finished, the projected decoration of some of the pages appearing only in outline. It is believed that some 30 folios of the original manuscript have been lost over the centuries. Ussher counted 344 folios in 1621, but several leaves had already been lost by then. The overall estimate is based on gaps in the text and the absence of certain key illustrations.

Contents

The extant book contains preliminary matter, the complete text of the Gospels of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

, Mark
Gospel of Mark
The Gospel According to Mark , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Mark or simply Mark, is the second book of the New Testament. This canonical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the three synoptic gospels. It was thought to be an epitome, which accounts for its place as the second...

 and Luke
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

, and the Gospel of John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

 through John 17:13. The remainder of John and an unknown amount of the preliminary matter is missing and was perhaps lost when the book was stolen early in the 11th century AD. The remaining preliminary matter consists of two fragmentary lists of Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 names contained in the Gospels, Breves causae (Gospel summaries), Argumenta (short biographies of the Evangelists), and Eusebian
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

 canon tables
Ammonian Sections
Eusebian canons or Eusebian sections, also known as Ammonian Sections, are the system of dividing the four Gospels used between late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The divisions into chapters and verses used in modern texts date only from the 13th and 16th centuries, respectively...

. It is probable that, like the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Books of Durrow and Armagh, part of the lost preliminary material included the letter of Jerome to Pope Damasus I
Letter of Jerome to Pope Damasus
The Epistle of Jerome to Pope Damasus I , written in 376 or 377 AD, is a response of Jerome to a epistle from Damasus, who urged him to make a new translational work of the Holy Scripture. The letter was written before Jerome started his translational work .Jerome agreed that Old-Latin translation...

 known as Novum opus, in which Jerome explains the purpose of his translation. It is also possible, though less likely, that the lost material included the letter of Eusebius to Carpianus, in which he explains the use of the canon tables. Of all the insular Gospels, only the Lindisfarne manuscript contains this letter.
There are two fragments of the lists of Hebrew names; one on the recto of the first surviving folio and one on folio 26, which is currently inserted at the end of the prefatory matter for John. The first list fragment contains the end of the list for the Gospel of Matthew. The missing names from Matthew would require an additional two folios. The second list fragment, on folio 26, contains about a fourth of the list for Luke. The list for Luke would require an additional three folios. The structure of the quire in which folio 26 occurs is such that it is unlikely that there are three folios missing between folios 26 and 27, so that it is almost certain that folio 26 is not now in its original location. There is no trace of the lists for Mark and John.

The first list fragment is followed by the canon tables of Eusebius
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

 of Caesarea. These tables, which predate the text of the Vulgate, were developed to cross-reference the Gospels. Eusebius divided the Gospel into chapters and then created tables that allowed readers to find where a given episode in the life of Christ was located in each of the Gospels. The canon tables were traditionally included in the prefatory material in most mediaeval copies of the Vulgate text of the Gospels. The tables in the Book of Kells, however, are almost unusable because the scribe condensed the tables in such a way as to make them confused. In addition, the corresponding chapter numbers were never inserted into the margins of the text, making it impossible to find the sections to which the canon tables refer. The reason for the omission remains unclear: the scribe may have planned to add the references upon the manuscript's completion, or he may have deliberately left them out so as not to spoil the appearance of pages.

The Breves causae and Argumenta belong to a pre-Vulgate tradition of manuscripts. The Breves causae are summaries of the Old Latin translations
Vetus Latina
Vetus Latina is a collective name given to the Biblical texts in Latin that were translated before St Jerome's Vulgate Bible became the standard Bible for Latin-speaking Western Christians. The phrase Vetus Latina is Latin for Old Latin, and the Vetus Latina is sometimes known as the Old Latin Bible...

 of the Gospels and are divided into numbered chapters. These chapter numbers, like the numbers for the canon tables, are not used on the text pages of the Gospels. It is unlikely that these numbers would have been used, even if the manuscript had been completed, because the chapter numbers corresponded to old Latin translations and would have been difficult to harmonise with the Vulgate text. The Argumenta are collections of legends about the Evangelists. The Breves causae and Argumenta are arranged in a strange order: first come the Breves causae and Argumenta for Matthew, followed by the Breves and Argumenta for Mark, then, quite oddly, come the Argumenta of both Luke and John, followed by their Breves causae. This anomalous order mirrors that found in the Book of Durrow, although in the latter instance, the misplaced sections appear at the very end of the manuscript rather than as part of a continuous preliminary. In other insular manuscripts, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels
Lindisfarne Gospels
The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated Latin manuscript of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the British Library...

, the Book of Armagh
Book of Armagh
The Book of Armagh or Codex Ardmachanus , also known as the Canon of Patrick and the Liber Armachanus, is a 9th-century Irish manuscript written mainly in Latin. It is held by the Library of Trinity College, Dublin...

, and the Echternach Gospels
Echternach Gospels
The Echternach Gospels is an 8th-century insular Gospel Book from the library of the monastery of Echternach, Luxembourg. It is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris . The manuscript was written by the same scribe that wrote the Durham Gospels.-References:* De Hamel, Christopher. A History...

, each Gospel is treated as a separate work and has its preliminaries immediately preceding it. The slavish repetition in Kells of the order of the Breves causae and Argumenta found in Durrow led scholar T. K. Abbott to the conclusion that the scribe of Kells had either the Book of Durrow or a common model in hand.

Text and script

The Book of Kells contains the text of the four Gospels based on the Vulgate. It does not, however, contain a pure copy of the Vulgate. There are numerous variants from the Vulgate, where Old Latin translations are used in lieu of Jerome's text. Although such variants are common in all of the insular Gospels, there does not seem to be a consistent pattern of variation amongst the various insular texts. Evidence suggests that when the scribes were writing the text they often depended on memory rather than on their exemplar.

The manuscript is written primarily in insular majuscule with some occurrences of minuscule letters (usually e or s). The text is usually written in one long line across the page. Françoise Henry
Françoise Henry
Françoise Henry was a scholar of early Irish art. She studied at the École du Louvre with Henri Hubert. She worked for University College Dublin from 1934 to 1974.-External links:*http://www.ucd.ie/archives/html/collections/henry-francoise.htm...

 identified at least three scribes in this manuscript, whom she named Hand A, Hand B, and Hand C. Hand A is found on folios 1 through 19v, folios 276 through 289, and folios 307 through the end of the manuscript. Hand A, for the most part, writes eighteen or nineteen lines per page in the brown gall-ink common throughout the West. Hand B is found on folios 19r through 26 and folios 124 through 128. Hand B has a somewhat greater tendency to use minuscule and uses red, purple and black ink and a variable number of lines per page. Hand C is found throughout the majority of the text. Hand C also has greater tendency to use minuscule than Hand A. Hand C uses the same brownish gall-ink used by hand A and wrote, almost always, seventeen lines per page.

Errors or deviations

There are a number of differences
Bible errata
Throughout history, printers' errors and peculiar translations have appeared in Bibles published throughout the world.-Manuscript Bibles:-The Book of Kells, circa 800:...

 between the text and the accepted Gospels. In the genealogy of Jesus
Genealogy of Jesus
The genealogy of Jesus is described in two passages of the Gospels: Luke 3:23–38 and Matthew 1:1–17.* Matthew's genealogy commences with Abraham and then from King David's son Solomon follows the legal line of the kings through Jeconiah, the king whose descendants were cursed, to Joseph, legal...

, which starts at Luke
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

 3:23, Kells erroneously names an extra ancestor. Elsewhere, Matthew 10:34b
But to bring a sword
"I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword" , part of the Lesser Commission, is one of the controversial statements reported of Jesus in the Bible. The saying has been interpreted in several ways...

 should read "I came not to send peace, but a sword," but the manuscript reads gaudium ("joy") where it should read gladium ("sword") and so translates as "I came not [only] to send peace, but joy."

Decoration

The text is accompanied by many full-page miniatures
Miniature (illuminated manuscript)
The word miniature, derived from the Latin minium, red lead, is a picture in an ancient or medieval illuminated manuscript; the simple decoration of the early codices having been miniated or delineated with that pigment...

, while smaller painted decorations appear throughout the text in unprecedented quantities. The decoration of the book is famous for combining intricate detail with bold and energetic compositions. The characteristics of the Insular manuscript initial, as described by Carl Nordenfalk, here reach their most extreme realization: "the initials ... are conceived as elastic forms expanding and contracting with a pulsating rhythm. The kinetic energy of their contours escapes into freely drawn appendices, a spiral line which in turn generates new curvilinear motifs...". The illustrations feature a broad range of colours, with purple, lilac, red, pink, green, and yellow being the colours most often used. Earlier manuscripts tend toward more narrow palettes: the Book of Durrow, for example, uses only four colours. As is usual with Insular work, there was no use of gold or silver leaf
Metal leaf
Metal leaf, also called composition leaf or schlagmetal, is a thin foil used for decoration. Metal leaf can come in many different shades. Some metal leaf may look like gold leaf but not contain any real gold...

 in the manuscript. The pigments for the illustrations, which included red and yellow ochre, green copper pigment (sometimes called verdigris
Verdigris
Verdigris is the common name for a green pigment obtained through the application of acetic acid to copper plates or the natural patina formed when copper, brass or bronze is weathered and exposed to air or seawater over a period of time. It is usually a basic copper carbonate, but near the sea...

), indigo and lapis lazuli
Lapis lazuli
Lapis lazuli is a relatively rare semi-precious stone that has been prized since antiquity for its intense blue color....

, would have been imported from the Mediterranean region and, in the case of the lapis lazuli, from northeast Afghanistan.

The lavish illumination programme is far greater than any other surviving Insular Gospel book. There are ten surviving full-page illuminations including two evangelist portrait
Evangelist portrait
Evangelist portraits are a specific type of miniature included in ancient and mediæval illuminated manuscript Gospel Books, and later in Bibles and other books, as well as other media. Each Gospel of the Four Evangelists, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, may be prefaced by a portrait of...

s, three pages with the four evangelist symbols, a carpet page
Carpet page
Carpet pages are a characteristic feature of Insular illuminated manuscripts. They are pages of mainly geometrical ornamentation, which may include repeated animal forms, typically placed at the beginning of each of the four Gospels in Gospel Books...

, a miniature of the Virgin and Child, a miniature of Christ enthroned, and miniatures of the Arrest of Jesus
Arrest of Jesus
The arrest of Jesus is a pivotal event recorded in the Canonical gospels. The event ultimately leads, in the Gospel accounts, to Jesus' crucifixion...

 and the Temptation of Christ
Temptation of Christ
The temptation of Christ is detailed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. According to these texts, after being baptized, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judean desert. During this time, the devil appeared to Jesus and tempted him...

. There are thirteen surviving full pages of decorated text including pages for the first few words of each of the Gospels. Eight of the ten pages of the canon tables have extensive decoration. It is highly probable that there were other pages of miniature and decorated text that are now lost. In addition to these major pages, there are a host of smaller decorations and decorated initials throughout the text; in fact only two pages have no decoration.
The extant folios of the manuscript start with the fragment of the glossary of Hebrew names. This fragment occupies the left-hand column of folio 1r. A miniature of the four evangelist symbols, now much abraded, make up the right-hand column. The miniature is oriented so that the volume must be turned ninety degrees in order to view it properly. The four evangelist symbols are a visual theme that runs throughout the book. They are almost always shown together to emphasise the doctrine of the four Gospels' unity of message.

The unity of the Gospels is further emphasised by the decoration of the Eusebian canon tables. The canon tables themselves inherently illustrate the unity of the Gospels by organising corresponding passages from the Gospels. The Eusebian canon tables normally require twelve pages. In the Book of Kells, the makers of the manuscript planned for twelve pages (folios 1v through 7r) but for unknown reasons, condensed them into ten, leaving folios 6v and 7r blank. This condensation rendered the canon tables unusable. The decoration of the first eight pages of the canon tables is heavily influenced by early Gospel Books from the Mediterranean, where it was traditional to enclose the tables within an arcade
Arcade (architecture)
An arcade is a succession of arches, each counterthrusting the next, supported by columns or piers or a covered walk enclosed by a line of such arches on one or both sides. In warmer or wet climates, exterior arcades provide shelter for pedestrians....

 (as seen in the London Canon Tables
London Canon Tables
The London Canon Tables is a Byzantine illuminated Gospel Book fragment on vellum from the 6th or 7th century. It was possibly made in Constantinople. The fragment consists of two folios of two illuminated canon tables – of unusual construction – set beneath an ornamental arcade and the Letter by...

). The Kells manuscript presents this motif in an Insular spirit, where the arcades are not seen as architectural elements but rather become stylised geometric patterns with Insular ornamentation. The four evangelist symbols occupy the spaces under and above the arches. The last two canon tables are presented within a grid. This presentation is limited to Insular manuscripts and was first seen in the Book of Durrow.
The remainder of the book is broken into sections with the divisions set off by miniatures and full pages of decorated text. Each of the Gospels is introduced by a consistent decorative programme. The preliminary matter is treated as one section and introduced by a lavish decorative spread. In addition to the preliminaries and the Gospels, the "second beginning" of the Gospel of Matthew is also given its own introductory decoration.

The preliminary matter is introduced by an icon
Icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

ic image of the Virgin and Child (folio 7v). This miniature is the first representation of the Virgin in a Western manuscript. Mary is shown in an odd mixture of frontal and three-quarter pose. This miniature also bears a stylistic similarity to the carved image on the lid of St. Cuthbert's coffin
St. Cuthbert's coffin
St. Cuthbert's coffin is an oak coffin in Durham Cathedral which between AD 698 and 1827 contained the remains of Saint Cuthbert, who died in 687. The coffin also contained the Stonyhurst Gospel and the best surviving examples of Anglo-Saxon embroidery or opus Anglicanum, a stole and maniple...

 of 698. The iconography of the miniature may derive from an Eastern or Coptic icon.

The miniature of the Virgin and Child faces the first page of text and is an appropriate preface to the beginning of the Breves Causae of Matthew, which begins Nativitas Christi in Bethlem (the birth of Christ in Bethlehem). The beginning page (folio 8r) of the text of the Breves Causae is decorated and contained within an elaborate frame. The two-page spread of the miniature and the text makes a vivid introductory statement for the prefatory material. The opening line of each of the sections of the preliminary matter is enlarged and decorated (see above for the Breves causae of Luke), but no other section of the preliminaries is given the same level of treatment as the beginning of the Breves Causae of Matthew.
The book was designed so that each of the Gospels would have an elaborate introductory decorative programme. Each Gospel was originally prefaced by a full page miniature containing the four evangelist symbols, followed by a blank page. Then came a portrait of the evangelist which faced the opening text of the Gospel which was given an elaborate decorative treatment. The Gospel of Matthew retains both its Evangelist portrait (folio 28v) and its page of Evangelist symbols (folio 27r, see above). The Gospel of Mark is missing the Evangelist portrait but retains its Evangelist symbols page (folio 129v). The Gospel of Luke is missing both the portrait and the Evangelist symbols page. The Gospel of John, like the Gospel of Matthew, retains both its portrait (folio 291v, see at right) and its Evangelist symbols page (folio 290v). It can be assumed that the portraits for Mark and Luke and the symbols page for Luke at one time existed but have been lost. The use of all four of the Evangelist symbols in front of each Gospel is striking and was intended to reinforce the message of the unity of the Gospels.

The decoration of the opening few words of each Gospel was lavish. These pages were, in effect, turned into carpet pages. The decoration of these texts is so elaborate that the text itself is almost illegible. The opening page (folio 28r) of Matthew may stand as an example. (See illustration at left.) The page consists of only two words: Liber generationis ("The book of the generation"). The lib of Liber is turned in to a giant monogram which dominates the entire page. The er of Liber is presented as an interlaced ornament within the b of the lib monogram. Generationis is broken into three lines and contained within an elaborate frame in the right lower quadrant of the page. The entire assemblage is contained within an elaborate border.
The border and the letters themselves are further decorated with elaborate spirals and knot work
Celtic knot
Celtic knots are a variety of knots and stylized graphical representations of knots used for decoration, used extensively in the Celtic style of Insular art. These knots are most known for their adaptation for use in the ornamentation of Christian monuments and manuscripts, such as the 8th-century...

, many of them zoomorphic. The opening words of Mark, Initium evangelii ("The beginning of the Gospel"), Luke, Quoniam quidem multi, and John, In principio erat verbum ("In the beginning was the Word"), are all given similar treatments. Although the decoration of these pages was most extensive in the Book of Kells, these pages were decorated in all of the other Insular Gospel Books.

The Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus
Genealogy of Jesus
The genealogy of Jesus is described in two passages of the Gospels: Luke 3:23–38 and Matthew 1:1–17.* Matthew's genealogy commences with Abraham and then from King David's son Solomon follows the legal line of the kings through Jeconiah, the king whose descendants were cursed, to Joseph, legal...

. At , the actual narrative of Christ's life starts
Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

. This "second beginning" to Matthew was given emphasis in many early Gospel Books, so much so that the two sections were often treated as separate works. The second beginning begins with the word Christ. The Greek letters chi
Chi (letter)
Chi is the 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet, pronounced as in English.-Greek:-Ancient Greek:Its value in Ancient Greek was an aspirated velar stop .-Koine Greek:...

 and rho
Rho (letter)
Rho is the 17th letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals, it has a value of 100. It is derived from Semitic resh "head"...

 were normally used in mediaeval manuscripts to abbreviate the word Christ. In Insular Gospel Books, the initial Chi Rho
Labarum
The labarum was a vexillum that displayed the "Chi-Rho" symbol ☧, formed from the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ" — Chi and Rho . It was used by the Roman emperor Constantine I...

 monogram
Monogram
A monogram is a motif made by overlapping or combining two or more letters or other graphemes to form one symbol. Monograms are often made by combining the initials of an individual or a company, used as recognizable symbols or logos. A series of uncombined initials is properly referred to as a...

 was enlarged and decorated. In the Book of Kells, this second beginning was given a decorative programme equal to those that preface the individual Gospels. Folio 32 verso has a miniature of Christ enthroned. (It has been argued that this miniature is one of the lost evangelist portraits. However, the iconography is quite different from the extant portraits, and current scholarship accepts this identification and placement for this miniature.) Facing this miniature, on folio 33 recto, is the only carpet page in the Book of Kells, which is rather anomalous; the Lindisfarne Gospels
Lindisfarne Gospels
The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated Latin manuscript of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the British Library...

 has five extant carpet pages and the Book of Durrow
Book of Durrow
The Book of Durrow is a 7th-century illuminated manuscript gospel book in the Insular style. It was probably created between 650 and 700, in Northumbria in Northern England, where Lindisfarne or Durham would be the likely candidates, or on the island of Iona in the Scottish Inner Hebrides...

 has six. The blank verso of folio 33 faces the single most lavish miniature of the early mediaeval period, the Book of Kells Chi Rho monogram, which serves as incipit for the narrative of the life of Christ.

In the Book of Kells, the Chi Rho monogram has grown to consume the entire page. The letter chi dominates the page with one arm swooping across the majority of the page. The letter rho is snuggled underneath the arms of the chi. Both letters are divided into compartments which are lavishly decorated with knot work and other patterns. The background is likewise awash in a mass of swirling and knotted decoration. Within this mass of decoration are hidden animals and insects. Three angels arise from one of the cross arms of the chi. This miniature is the largest and most lavish extant Chi Rho monogram in any Insular Gospel Books and is the culmination of a tradition that started with the Book of Durrow
Book of Durrow
The Book of Durrow is a 7th-century illuminated manuscript gospel book in the Insular style. It was probably created between 650 and 700, in Northumbria in Northern England, where Lindisfarne or Durham would be the likely candidates, or on the island of Iona in the Scottish Inner Hebrides...

.

The Book of Kells contains two other full-page miniatures, which illustrate episodes from the Passion
Passion (Christianity)
The Passion is the Christian theological term used for the events and suffering – physical, spiritual, and mental – of Jesus in the hours before and including his trial and execution by crucifixion...

 story. The text of Matthew is illustrated with a full-page illumination of the Arrest of Christ (folio 114r). Jesus is shown beneath a stylised arcade while being held by two much smaller figures. In the text of Luke, there is a full sized miniature of the Temptation of Christ
Temptation of Christ
The temptation of Christ is detailed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. According to these texts, after being baptized, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judean desert. During this time, the devil appeared to Jesus and tempted him...

(folio 202v). Christ is shown from the waist up on top of the Temple. To his right is a crowd of people, perhaps representing his disciples. To his left and below him is a black figure of Satan
Satan
Satan , "the opposer", is the title of various entities, both human and divine, who challenge the faith of humans in the Hebrew Bible...

. Above him hover two angel
Angel
Angels are mythical beings often depicted as messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles along with the Quran. The English word angel is derived from the Greek ἄγγελος, a translation of in the Hebrew Bible ; a similar term, ملائكة , is used in the Qur'an...

s.

The verso of the folio containing the Arrest of Christ
Arrest of Jesus
The arrest of Jesus is a pivotal event recorded in the Canonical gospels. The event ultimately leads, in the Gospel accounts, to Jesus' crucifixion...

contains a full page of decorated text which begins "Tunc dicit illis". Facing the miniature of the Temptation is another full page of decorated text (folio 203r "Iesus autem plenus"). In addition to this page, five other full pages also receive elaborate treatment. In Matthew, there is one other full-page treatment (folio 124r, "Tunc crucifixerant Xpi cum eo duos latrones"). In the Gospel of Mark, there are also two pages of decorated text (folio 183r, "Erat autem hora tercia", and folio 187v, "[Et Dominus] quidem [Iesus] postquam"). The Gospel of Luke contains two pages of fully decorated text (folio 188v, "Fuit in diebus Herodis ", and folio 285r, "Una autem sabbati valde"). Although these texts do not have miniatures associated with them, it is probable that miniatures were planned to accompany each of these texts and have either been lost or were never completed. There is no surviving full page of text in the Gospel of John other than the Incipit. However, in the other three Gospels, all of the full pages of decorated text, except for folio 188c, which begins the Nativity narration, occur within the Passion narrative. However, since the missing folios of John contain the Passion narrative, it is likely that John contained full pages of decorated text that have been lost.

The decoration of the book is not limited to the major pages. Scattered through the text are decorated initials and small figures of animals and humans often twisted and tied into complicated knots. Many significant texts, such as the Pater Noster
Lord's Prayer
The Lord's Prayer is a central prayer in Christianity. In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, it appears in two forms: in the Gospel of Matthew as part of the discourse on ostentation in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Gospel of Luke, which records Jesus being approached by "one of his...

have decorated initials. The page containing text of the Beatitudes
Beatitudes
In Christianity, the Beatitudes are a set of teachings by Jesus that appear in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The term Beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beatus which means happy, fortunate, or blissful....

 in Matthew (folio 40v) has a large miniature along the left margin of the page in which the letter B which begins each line is linked into an ornate chain. The genealogy of Christ found in the Gospel of Luke (folio 200r) contains a similar miniature in which the word qui is repeatedly linked along the left margin. Many of the small animals scattered throughout the text serve to mark a "turn-in-the-path" (that is, a place where a line is finished in a space above or below the original line). Many other animals serve to fill spaces left at the end of lines. No two of these designs are the same. No earlier surviving manuscript has this massive amount of decoration.
The decorations are all high quality and often highly complex. In one decoration, which occupies a one-inch square piece of a page, there are 158 complex interlacements of white ribbon with a black border on either side. Some decorations can only be fully seen with magnifying glasses, although lenses of the required power are not known to have been available until hundreds of years after the book's completion. The complicated knot work and interweaving found in Kells and related manuscripts have many parallels in the metalwork and stone carving of the period. Since their gradual rediscovery from the 19th century on, these designs have also had an enduring popularity. Indeed many of these motifs are used today in popular art including jewellery and tattoo
Tattoo
A tattoo is made by inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment. Tattoos on humans are a type of body modification, and tattoos on other animals are most commonly used for identification purposes...

s.

Purpose

The book had a sacramental rather than educational purpose. A large, lavish Gospel, such as the Book of Kells, would have been left on the high altar of the church and taken off only for the reading of the Gospel during Mass. However, it is probable that the reader would not actually read the text from the book, but rather recite from memory. It is significant that the Chronicles of Ulster state that the book was stolen from the sacristy
Sacristy
A sacristy is a room for keeping vestments and other church furnishings, sacred vessels, and parish records.The sacristy is usually located inside the church, but in some cases it is an annex or separate building...

 (where the vessels and other accoutrements of the Mass
Mass (liturgy)
"Mass" is one of the names by which the sacrament of the Eucharist is called in the Roman Catholic Church: others are "Eucharist", the "Lord's Supper", the "Breaking of Bread", the "Eucharistic assembly ", the "memorial of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection", the "Holy Sacrifice", the "Holy and...

 were stored) rather than from the monastic library. The design of the book seems to take this purpose in mind; that is, the book was produced with appearance taking precedence over practicality. There are numerous uncorrected mistakes in the text. Lines were often completed in a blank space in the line above. The chapter headings that were necessary to make the canon tables usable were not inserted into the margins of the page. In general, nothing was done to disrupt the look of the page: aesthetics were given a priority over utility.

See also

  • The Secret of Kells, a 2009 animated feature film that gives a fictionalized origin for the book.

Further reading

  • Alton, E. H. and P. Meyer. Enageliorum quattor Codex Cenannensi. 3 vols. Bern: Urs Graf Verlag, 1959-1951.
  • Brown, T. J. "Northumbria and the Book of Kells". Anglo-Saxon England I (1972): 219–246.
  • De Paor, Liam. "The world of the Book of Kells," in Ireland and early Europe: essays and occasional writings on art and culture. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1997. ISBN 1-85182-298-4
  • Farr, Carol Ann. The Book of Kells: Its Function and Audience (British Library Studies in Mediaeval Culture, 4). London: British Library & Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. ISBN 0-7123-0499-1.
  • Friend, A. M., Jr. "The Canon Tables of the Book of Kells". In Mediæval Studies in Memory of A. Kingsley Porter, ed. W. R. K. Koehler. Vol. 2, pp. 611–641. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1939.
  • Lewis, Susanne. "Sacred Calligraphy: The Chi Rho Page in the Book of Kells". Traditio 36 (1980): 139–159.
  • McGurk, P. "Two Notes on the Book of Kells and Its Relation to Other Insular Gospel Books". Scriptorium 9 (1955): 105–107.
  • Meyvaert, Paul. The Book of Kells and Iona The Art Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Mar., 1989), pp. 6–19 JSTOR
  • Meehan, Bernard. The Book of Kells: An Illustrated Introduction to the Manuscript in Trinity College Dublin. London: Thames and Hudson, 1994
  • Mussetter, Sally. "An Animal Miniature on the Monogram Page of the Book of Kells". Mediaevalia 3 (1977): 119–120.
  • Nordenfalk, Carl. "Another Look at the Book of Kells". In Festschrift Wolgang Braunfels, pp. 275–279. Tübingen: Wasmuth, 1977.
  • Powell, Roger. "The Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow, Comments on the Vellum and the Make-up and Other Aspects". Scriptorum 10 (1956), 12–21.
  • Pulliam, Heather. Word and Image in the Book of Kells. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2006. ISBN 1-85182-925-3.
  • Sullivan, Sir Edward. The Book of Kells. The Studio Ltd, 1920.

External links

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