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. 1 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.