The Early Irish Manuscripts Project is pleased to announce the launch of the digital version of Codex Usserianus Primus (TCD MS 55). This is the fourth and final early medieval Gospel Book to be digitized on this project. Usserianus Primus is special because it is one of the earliest examples of a Gospel Book, thought to have been made in Ireland, to have survived to the present day. While it has generally been dated to the seventh century, a controversial assessment has identified the manuscript as the product of the fifth century, an extraordinarily early date for a Christian book to have been made in Ireland.
Compared to the other Gospel Books in this project, Usserianus Primus is particularly fragile. While the manuscript has retained 182 folios with scriptural text, these have suffered damage rendering many of them fragments. In addition, the late nineteenth-century binding of the volume caused stress on the vellum resulting in distortion of the leaves (see previous post). Conservation has involved both dis-binding the volume and remounting the leaves in a painstaking process that has taken months to complete (see previous post).
In 1926, after having the rare pleasure of examining the Book of Dimma, Dr. Richard Best, Celticist at the National Library of Ireland wrote, ‘Lastly, it is to be hoped that this precious volume…of so great importance to palaeographers [sic], may before long be published in facsimile.’1 It may have taken 90 years, but Dr. Best’s wish is our command. The digital Book of Dimma is now available online. This is the third of four Insular Gospel books to be digitized through our Early Irish Manuscripts project. You can see all the images here.
There are many treasures in the Library at Trinity College Dublin. Most are known to scholars and experts; a few, like the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow, are recognized more widely. It is rare then, that a manuscript largely unknown to researchers and the public alike, is brought to light. This year, the Early Irish Manuscripts Project brings forward a hidden gem, a digital version of the Garland of Howth. See the full manuscript here.
The Garland of Howth (TCD MS 56) has not yet received all the attention it deserves, partly owing to the fact that hardly any images exist of it. This is about to change dramatically, as we recently began full digitisation of this manuscript.
For this project we are utilising a piece of book cradle technology (Grazer KT5242) which simultaneously cradles the binding, isolates and applies a gentle vacuum suction to the fore edge of the open page (fig. 2). Photographing a manuscript is a methodical process Continue reading Behind the Lens→
I will start by introducing you to the four manuscripts which are the focus of the project.
Codex Usserianus Primus (TCD MS 55), containing the four Gospels, is a controversial citizen of the Library, as scholars do not agree on when it was made, and the where is also much debated. One might say that this is true of nearly all Insular manuscripts, but this particular one is a case in point in that expert opinions differ by several centuries.
For a long time believed to have been made in the early 7th century in Ireland or Bobbio, the abbey founded in 614 by the Irish missionary Columbanus, David Dumville has more recently argued in favour of a 5th-century date and a continental origin. 2 The dating and localisation of the manuscript are largely based on palaeographical and codicological evidence, as the manuscript, in a fragmentary state, only contains one extant decoration in the shape of a framed cross marking the end of Saint Luke’s Gospel and the beginning of Saint Mark’s (see fig.).
The modern mounts were far from satisfying: too heavy, they obscure certain parts of the text, and do not allow the parchment enough flexibility. Each one of the 182 leaves is therefore currently being remounted in our Conservation studios using a system which will greatly improve the manuscript’s preservation and legibility. The manuscript has now been fully re-photographed and published online.
The Library of Trinity College Dublin, in partnership with the Department of History of Art and Architecture, has received generous support from Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Project to fund an exciting project focused on four of the most important early medieval insular Gospel Books in the Library.
This blog will tell you all about these manuscripts and will keep you posted on our progress and discoveries.
The manuscripts in question are :
Codex Usserianus Primus, 5th or 7th century (TCD MS 55)
the Book of Dimma, late 8th century (TCD MS 59)
the Book of Mulling, 2nd half of the 8th century (TCD MS 60)
the Garland of Howth, 8th-9th century (TCD MS 56)
We will be looking at them from many different angles. The TCD conservation team will focus on preservation and technical examination, including non-destructive pigment analysis. Their findings will complement recent results achieved for the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow and the Book of Armagh, using micro-Raman spectroscopy.
Two of the manuscripts (Dimma and Mulling) are sitting rather uncomfortably in their mid-20th-century bindings, so this will be addressed in the conservation treatment, along with a close examination of their codicological structure.
The manuscripts will also be studied from an art historical perspective, the Garland of Howth in particular has barely been researched, so this should lead to significant discoveries.
And last but not least, they will be fully digitised and accessible online, so that everyone can have a chance to turn their pages.