All posts by Catherine Yvard

St Mullin’s

The Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60) is traditionally associated with the ecclesiastical site of St Mullin’s in Co. Carlow, located on the picturesque banks of the river Barrow (fig. 1). This was a strategic location, overlooking the border between the ancient territories of Leinster and Ossory, and at a crossing point of the river. The river provided easy access to the coast, a benefit in some ways, but one that left it prone to Viking attack in 824/5, 888, 915 and again in 951.

St Mullin's ©
Fig. 1 St Mullin’s today © R. Moss.

St Mullin’s was renowned as a place of pilgrimage, possibly stretching back to pre-Christian times and the festival of Lughnasa.  Continue reading St Mullin’s

Unorthodox Treatment of Manuscripts

There is no doubt that 19th-century antiquarians played an essential role in the appreciation and preservation of medieval artefacts which, in some cases, would not have come down to us if it were not for them. Their enthusiasm however sometimes proved to be quite destructive…


Fig. 1 Shrine of the Cathach, late 11th century, late 14th century and later additions © National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Sir William Betham (b. 1779, d. 1853), as we saw previously, was an important actor in the rediscovery of early Irish medieval manuscripts. When he came across the shrine of the Cathach (fig. 1), it was still sealed and the psalter it contained had not yet been exposed. The ornate box, according to an inscription on the reverse, had originally been commissioned sometime between 1062 and 1094 by Cathbarr Ua Domnaill, king of the Cenél Lugdach, and Domnall mac Robartaig, coarb of Kells.1 It was henceforth Continue reading Unorthodox Treatment of Manuscripts

The Shrine of the Book of Dimma

This shrine was made in the 12th century to enclose the 8th-century Gospel Book known as the Book of Dimma (TCD MS 59; see previous post) but, like many book-shrines, it was significantly altered in subsequent centuries, in particular in the late Middle Ages and the 19th century.

It is made of bronze, silver and gilt silver, with blue glass beads, a few blue stone cabochons (lapis lazuli?) and some remains of niello inlay. It is a tight fit for the manuscript, which implies that there is no space for a wooden core, as was often the case for book-shrines. It is however possible that the box was originally larger, and reduced in the course of later refurbishments.

Fig. 1 Front of the shrine of the Book of Dimma, Ireland, 12th century and 1380-1407, 19 x 16.1 x 5 cm. TCD © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

The appearance of the front (fig. 1) is largely the result of a late-medieval refurbishment whose commissioner and craftsman are commemorated in the inscription in Lombardic script running along the framing strips (fig. 1a-d): Continue reading The Shrine of the Book of Dimma

The Book of Mulling and the Kings of Leinster

The earliest extant Latin Life of Saint Moling was probably compiled in the late twelfth century by the Augustinian canons at Ferns, then seat of the MacMurrough kings of Leinster. Together with recounting the various miracles enacted by the saint, and the places with which he was associated, they also emphasise that Moling had a shared ancestry with the kings of Leinster, and was their patron. The ecclesiastical site at Saint Mullin’s, lying on the border of Leinster (Uí Cheinnselaig; see previous post) and the kingdom of Ossory, was one of the favoured places for royal burial.

Fig. 1 Detail: Meeting of Gloucester and MacMurrough, in La Prinse et mort du roy Richart (Book of the Capture and Death of King Richard II), Paris, c. 1401-1405. London, BL, Harl. MS 1319, f. 9. Creative Commons: this image is free of known copyright restrictions. Source.
Fig. 1 Detail: Meeting of Gloucester and MacMurrough, in La Prinse et mort du roy Richart (Book of the Capture and Death of King Richard II), Paris, c. 1401-1405. London, BL, Harl. MS 1319, f. 9. Creative Commons: this image is free of known copyright restrictions. Source.

As Anglo-Norman control of Ireland began to wane in the fourteenth century, Art McMurrough emerged as a powerful force. Continue reading The Book of Mulling and the Kings of Leinster

The Devil’s Caves…

The Book of Dimma (now TCD MS 59) and its shrine were purchased by Mr. Henry Monck Mason from a Dr. Thomas Harrison of Nenagh (Tipperary) in the early 19th century. They first came to public attention in 1816 when Monck Mason, librarian at the King’s Inns in Dublin, brought them to be exhibited at the Society of Antiquaries in London (then at Somerset House; fig. 1).

In 1824 William Darton (Junior) wrote a guide to London: A Description of London: Containing a Sketch of Its History and Present State, and of All the Most Celebrated Public Buildings, &c.
Fig. 1 W. Darton Jr, A Description of London: Containing a Sketch of Its History and Present State, and of All the Most Celebrated Public Buildings, &c. (London, 1824). Source.

On May 24th 1819, when Monck Mason presented the manuscript and its shrine at the Royal Irish Academy, he explained that, according to Dr Harrison, Continue reading The Devil’s Caves…

Sir William Betham and Early Irish Manuscripts

Sir William Betham (b. 1779, d. 1853), an English antiquarian who came to Ireland in 1805, played a significant part in the ‘discovery’ of a number of early Irish manuscripts. Indeed, he was an assiduous collector of manuscripts and owned the Book of Dimma (TCD MS 59); he also studied closely the Book of Armagh (TCD MS 52) and the Misach (National Museum of Ireland).

Portrait of William Betham, lithograph after Daniel Maclise, from the Athenaeum Portraits, no. 20, 1836. London, The British Museum, 1870,0514.1788.  Creative Commons. Source.

In 1821, he offered 100 guineas for the Book of Dimma and its box to its then-owner, Henry Monck-Mason, but only succeeded finally secured them in February 1825 for £150. The great collector Sir Thomas Phillipps1 was interested in purchasing them in 1827 for £250 on the condition the payment would be spread over three years. Betham rejected the offer and in 1830 auctioned them through Evans in London but they did not find a buyer and were bought in by his nephew Walker. Phair wrote that it was only in 1842 that Trinity College purchased them from him for £200,2 but it would appear from the Trinity College Board Register that the acquisition took place much earlier, in 1836, and for the lower sum of £150.3

Betham is also responsible for bringing the Cathach Psalter4 to light in the early 19th century. In his 1826 Irish Antiquarian Researches pt. I, he described how, braving ancient superstitions, ‘Regardless of the injunctions and threats of ignorance, which for more than a century had hermetically sealed it up,[…] the box [i.e. the Cathach shrine] was opened and examined in the presence of Sir Capel Molyneux, Mr. O’Donell, and myself, without any extraordinary, or supernatural occurrence, except, indeed, a heavy shower of hail which a strong northwest wind drove against the windows of my study’.5

In the same year, he brought the Cathach, the Book of Dimma and the Misach to England and was very proud to report to a friend on July 14th: ‘I returned this morning. I exhibited my precious relics in London to many of the learned who have unanimously surrendered the palm of honourable antiquity to Ireland.’6

Fig. 2 Saint Matthew, from the Book of Dimma. From Sir William Betham, Irish Antiquarian Researches pt. 1 (Dublin, 1826), ill. facing p. 50. Out of Copyright.

In his capacity as Ulster King of Arms from 1820, he compiled abstracts of numerous official documents, including wills, marriage licenses, etc. which today prove especially valuable in cases when the originals have been lost. 7 He was esteemed for his early publications, such as his Irish Antiquarian Researches in 1826 and 1827. However, his writings became increasingly speculative and fanciful, in particular his theories attempting to connect the Irish language and culture with the Orient, ultimately discrediting him in the eyes of serious scholars in later years.

His large collection of Irish-language manuscripts was bought by the Royal Irish Academy in 1850, while the rest of his collection was auctioned at Sotheby’s at his death.8

Roscrea and the Book of Dimma

Since its introduction to the scholarly community, the Book of Dimma (TCD MS 59) has been associated with the early ecclesiastical settlement at Roscrea. Aside from the ‘forged’ links of the manuscript to Dimma, scribe of Saint Crónán of Roscrea (see previous post), names inscribed on the shrine recording the 14th-century restoration work link it to the lord of the territory in which Roscrea sits, and both shrine and manuscript first came to antiquarian notice when in the possession of the parish priest at Roscrea.

Fig. 1 Monaincha Abbey © R. Moss.

The church at Roscrea was established sometime in the late 6th or early 7th century at a crossroads on one of the principal route ways of ancient Ireland- the Slighe Dhála and the location of a famous fair, the Aonach Éile. Continue reading Roscrea and the Book of Dimma

The Book-Shrine of Saint Moling

This box now at the National Museum of Ireland once housed the small 8th-century Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60). It is made of copper alloy sheets partly covered with silver and, unlike the shrine of the Book of Dimma, it is only decorated on the front, with a disparate collection eight settings made at different times in the history of the object (fig. 1).

Fig. 1 Front of the Book-Shrine of St Moling, 1402 with later additions, Dublin, National Museum of Ireland. From C. Vallancey, Collectanea de rebus hibernicus (Dublin, 1786), pl. II. Out of Copyright.

Although it seems at first sight to yield little information as to when and by whom it was commissioned, a closer examination reveals an inscription in Gothic script on a plate of silver foil simultaneously hidden and magnified by the large oval rock crystal forming the centre piece of the box (fig. 2).  Continue reading The Book-Shrine of Saint Moling

Enshrining the Book

As we pointed out in a previous post, three of the Gospel Books under examination were formerly kept in book-shrines. The shrines are extant for the Book of Dimma (TCD; fig. 1) and the Book of Mulling (National Museum of Ireland), while the damage visible on Codex Usserianus Primus implies that it was also kept in a metal box for some time (see more on this HERE).

Fig. 1 The Misach, late 11th century and 1534, National Museum of Ireland © National Museum of Ireland.

The practice of enclosing books in ornate boxes probably stems from the use of book caskets during religious ceremonies in early Christian Rome. The Gospel, considered to be the Word of God, needed to be housed in an appropriate manner:  lavish bindings and boxes were devised to protect the Scriptures and assert their importance through the use of precious materials.

Continue reading Enshrining the Book

Conservation on the Book of Mulling

When the Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60) was received in the Conservation Department of Trinity College back in 1977, it was sporting a binding that had been carried out by the British Museum in the late 19th century. The style of binding was similar to that employed for Codex Usserianus Primus (TCD MS 55) (see previous post) and involved the now individual vellum folios being glued around their edges and set into paper panels, before being gathered together and sewn into a leather binding.

Fig. 1 Example of extensive rebuilding of the back margin of f. 2r carried out as part of the 1977 conservation campaign in Trinity College Dublin © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

After removal of this unsuitable structure, the Conservation Department carried out rebinding following extensive repairs to the leaves of the manuscript. Continue reading Conservation on the Book of Mulling