The Garland of Howth (TCD MS 56) is larger than the Book of Mulling and the Book of Dimma,1 and thus does not fall within the category of the so-called ‘Pocket Gospel Book’, a typically Insular phenomenon to which I shall return in a future post. Unfortunately only two illuminated Gospel openings have survived out of the four, as the beginnings of Saint Luke and Saint John are now lost, but what remains is wonderfully intricate and idiosyncratic.
The manuscript takes its name from a tradition according to which it was found on Ireland’s Eye, an island north of Howth, and later brought to Howth on the mainland.
As you can see from the images on this page, it is rather damaged, but it is also one of the most intriguing manuscripts of the group, as it has barely been studied. This is not all that surprising given that, as a high grade manuscript, it is difficult to access, and one cannot rely on existing images, as they are scarce and of poor quality. This will soon change dramatically, as it is going to be fully digitised and published online. We will give you a preview of the new images as soon as we start. We will also be carrying out pigment analysis on this manuscript, using micro-Raman spectroscopy, which should yield interesting results and complement the analyses carried out on other early Irish manuscripts.
According to a colophon, this Gospel Book was written by a scribe called Mulling, hence its name. Early on, the said scribe was identified as Saint Moling (d. c. 697), Bishop of Ferns and founder of the monastery of Tech-Moling in county Carlow (St. Mullin’s). But this appealing hypothesis was soon contradicted by a close examination of the script and illumination, which pointed to the late 8th century rather than to a century earlier. It followed that, as is the case for many other medieval manuscripts, the colophon was certainly copied from an earlier exemplar.
The Book of Mulling (TCD MS 60) contains the four Gospels, each originally introduced by an author portrait and an elaborate initial on the facing page (see image above). The miniature of Saint Luke is now lost, but all other three openings are extant. It ends with an intriguing diagram which was formerly believed to be a plan of the monastery of Tech-Moling, but has been more recently re-interpreted in the light of its relationship to the prayers it accompanies.
The present modern binding of the manuscript, which is too tight, will be addressed in the conservation treatment. Non-destructive pigment analysis, using micro-Raman spectroscopy, will be carried out on this book as well as on the two other illuminated manuscripts under scrutiny: the Book of Dimma and the Garland of Howth.
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.