The event was off to an exciting start with papers from the Trinity College Dublin conservation team. Susie Bioletti, Allyson Smith (see previous post) and Marco Di Bella (see previous post) presented the work they have been doing on our project manuscripts. The application of scientific analysis to manuscripts continued in Bill Enders’ paper where he demonstrated the value of imaging manuscripts over time. Bernard Meehan discussed the bindings of the Book of Mulling (see previous post), and how recent technologies have brought greater clarity to the more damaged pages of the manuscript.
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…
From the late 7th to the early 12th century, Gospel Books were, with Psalters, the most common type of illuminated manuscript produced in Irish foundations in Ireland and across Europe. The surviving copies broadly fall into two categories: lavish illuminated Gospel Books, such as the Book of Kells (TCD MS 58), the Lindisfarne Gospels (London, BL, Cott. MS Nero D.IV) or the Lichfield Gospels (Lichfield, Cathedral Library, MS 1), and more modest volumes, of small proportions and with fewer illustrations, commonly known as ‘pocket Gospel Books’.
The Book of Dimma (TCD MS 59; fig. 1) and the Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60) belong to the latter group. Codex Usserianus Primus and the Garland of Howth, however, fall outside of this typology, belonging neither to one category nor the other, being too large to be called ‘pocket’ books,1 and too scarcely illuminated to constitute luxury volumes.
The Book of Dimma (TCD MS 59) is a small volume that contains the four Gospels as well as a few later additions, and was probably made in the late 8th century at Roscrea, a monastery founded in the 7th century .
Just as the Book of Mulling was not written by Mulling (see previous post), the Book of Dimma was not written by Dimma.
The name Dimma appears on several pages at the end of three Gospels (pp. 29, 52 and 148), but in each case it was written over an erasure. The reason for the alteration would have been to enhance the holy nature of the book by connecting it to an episode from the life of Saint Crónán (d. 619), the founder of the Roscrea monastery. According to the legend, Crónán asked a scribe called Dimma to produce a copy of the Gospels for him, demanding it to be ready by the next day. Dimma succeeded in this impossible task, as the sun miraculously did not set for the next forty days.
Whoever wrote the name of Dimma over that of the original scribe wished to transform this manuscript into the famous Gospels; the alteration was probably made at Roscrea in the late 10th or 11th century. Luckily, one colophon was left intact, on p. 103, revealing the original name of Dianchride, a name that occurs in the genealogy of the Uí Chorcrain, who had a branch based in the northern part of Tipperary.