Fittingly, Ireland’s greatest national treasure is a book. No wonder the country loves its writers so much. Although the Book of Kells is not so much about the writing – if you know what I mean, because it contains four gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and part of John) which we can of course read elsewhere, though perhaps not in Latin. No, what makes the Book of Kells so incredible are the illuminations.
Elaborately decorated initials and words make the pages of text extremely beautiful, and illustrations fill whole pages with portraits and representations of the stories. One picture of the Virgin and Child is the oldest existing Western image of the Virgin Mary. The book was created by Celtic monks around the ninth century and contains some of the most intricate and elaborate illustrating and calligraphy known.
No one is quite sure who actually created the book, apart from generally knowing they were Columban Monks, but for much of its life it was housed at the Abbey of Kells, hence its modern name. These days, since 1661 in fact, it’s kept in the library at Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university. Now bound into four books, the Book of Kells is on permanent exhibition and usually exhibited two books at a time, one showing a page of illustration or illumination, one showing text, calligraphy. The irony of course is that this, one of the world’s most famous books, is actually unfinished. But don’t let that stop you – the Book of Kells is an amazing example of human devotion and dedication.
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