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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

  • Book of Kells decorated opening (Gospel of Luke 3.26-32, folios 200v-201r): Qui fuit mathath/Qui fuit salmon (the genealogy of Jesus)

  • Book of Kells text opening (Gospel of John 6.57-7.1, folios 310v-311r): patrem et qui manducat me … / … quoniam quaerebant eum (‘The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life’; Peter’s confession of faith)


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