It is with pleasure that we announce the digitization of another early Irish manuscript – The Book of Mulling. This is the second of our four project Gospel books to be made fully available online. Previously, scholars and the wider public could only glimpse a few leaves from the manuscript published in academic books and articles. Now images of all the folios can be seen here.
To make the manuscript stable and preserve it for the future, conservation actions have been taken (fig. 1). Damaged vellum has been reinforced or repaired and the entire volume has been rebound (see previous post). It has been with great care and attention over four weeks that the digital version of the Book of Mulling has been prepared (For more on the time needed to produce manuscripts and their digital copies see previous post).
Among the best known elements of this manuscript are its images. Illuminations in Insular Gospel books are typically found at the beginning of each Gospel and the Book of Mulling is no different. A portrait of each evangelist was intended to introduce his particular account. Paintings for Matthew, Mark and John survive (see previous post). The opening words of each Gospel were also elaborated with decorated initials (fig. 2). Letters were formed with zoomorphic interlace and ornamented with knotwork. This type of display script was used for all four incipits but has received little attention to date.
One of the final folios of the manuscript (94v) includes a diagram that has been the subject of much scrutiny. There, a drawing of two concentric circles is marked at cardinal points by crosses. Each cross is labelled with the name of an evangelist and an Old Testament prophet. Initially, the image was taken as a plan of the monastery where the Gospel book was written. More recent analysis has instead related the diagram to a group of thirteen prayers associated with the image diagram (Look for a future post on The Famous Mulling Drawing).
A colophon at the end of John’s Gospel names the scribe who wrote the manuscript as Mulling, probably to associate the work with St. Moling, a bishop who died in 697 and was the founder of Teach-Moling, a monastery in Co. Carlow – now St. Mullings (fig. 3). Because the script is more appropriately dated to the late eighth century, it would seem the inscription was copied from an earlier example. The manuscript was likely written at that monastery. The quires containing the four Gospels are dated to the second half of the eight century. Other parts of the manuscript appear to be later work added in the ninth century. These include the canon tables at the beginning of the book, a text for a service of the visitation of the sick and the diagram mentioned above.
The Book of Mulling passed into the care of the Kavanagh family of Co. Carlow before coming into the collection of Trinity College Dublin in the late eighteenth century. It was associated with a shrine that dates to at least the fourteenth century (fig. 4). An inscription names Art McMurrough (d. 1417), first king of Leinster since the Norman Conquest, as the patron (see previous post). Made from copper alloy and silver, the shrine is especially distinguished by a large rock crystal ornament on its cover. Regrettably, prolonged contact between the codex and the metal shrine resulted in damage to the vellum particularly affecting the first and last leaves of the manuscript.
Colleen Thomas, Research Fellow