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The Book of Kells

The Book of Kells (Trinity College Dublin MS 58) is celebrated for its lavish decoration. The manuscript contains the four Gospels in Latin based on a Vulgate text, written on vellum (prepared calfskin), in a bold and expert version of the script known as "insular majuscule".

The place of origin of the Book of Kells is generally attributed to the scriptorium of the monastery founded around 561 by St Colum Cille on Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland. In 806, following a Viking raid on the island which left 68 of the community dead, the Columban monks took refuge in a new monastery at Kells, County Meath. It must have been close to the year 800 that the Book of Kells was written, although there is no way of knowing if the book was produced wholly at Iona or at Kells, or partially at each location.

It has been on display in the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin from the mid 19th century, and attracts over 500,000 visitors a year. Since 1953 it has been bound in four volumes. Two volumes are on public view, one opened to display a major decorated page, and one to show two pages of script. The volumes are changed at regular intervals.

Manuscripts Currently on Display

Display opening. Gospel of Mark folios 129v-130r.
Folio 129v: The symbols of the four Evangelists (St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke, St John).
Folio 130r: INIT/IUM  EUANGE/LII  IESU / CHRISTI (The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ).

Text opening: Gospel of Matthew folios 72v-71r:
Uespere autem facto solus erat … Tunc accesserunt ad eum ab hyeru-[solimus].
(Jesus walks on the water).

The Book of Armagh folio 16v
A text inserted around the year 1005 celebrates Brian Boru as Imperator Scotorum (Emperor of the Irish). It was written to record an agreement between Brian and Ireland’s most powerful church, Armagh.

Book of Armagh Boards
Original binding boards of the Book of Armagh, dating from the early 9th Century, are a very rare survival in an Irish context.


Last updated 5 August 2014 | Site Map | Website Feedback