The Book of Kells

The Long Room

Book of Kells at Trinity College

One of the examples of an illuminated manuscript in existence, the lavishly decorated Book of Kells is one of Ireland’s finest cultural treasures. It’s on display at Trinity College in Dublin.

The Book of Kells is ancient – at least 1,200 years old, and maybe even older than that. The text (which is actually split into four separately bound books) relates the four Gospels and is taken largely from the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the Bible and the most authoritative text of its kind when the Book of Kells was penned.

Visitors can see the book in person. Each day, a new page is displayed to keep any single page from being overexposed to light. Unless you can read Latin, there’s not much point of trying to read the book. However, it’s the way the words are rendered that is so impressive.

The book is written in black, red purple and yellow ink, with a great deal of flourish and filigree. Historians believe that two scribes were responsible for the writing and artwork, though neither of their names have been preserved. Their contribution to history remains anonymous.

Viewing the Book of Kells

The Book of Kells has been on display in the Trinity College’s Old Library since the mid-19th century. At any given moment, two of the four volumes are open in the showcase, one to display a major decoration and the other to show an excerpt of the script. More than half a million visitors stop by each year. -

Leading up to the ultimate display, visitors pass through a series of rooms that explain the way manuscripts like this were penned in the 8th and 9th centuries. The tour covers bookmaking techniques, decorative motifs and the specific history of the Book of Kells – particularly its against-all-odds survival into the present. All of this leads up to a darkened room centering on the glass case that houses the manuscript. It’s a well-planned, dramatic exhibit.

Visitors can only view an excerpt of the Book of Kells. If you’d like to have an in-depth look, view Trinity College’s digital archive online.

Photo credit: Superchilum

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