Tag Archives: Book of Mulling

The Evangelists’ Shoes

How important are shoes? Ask Dorothy – or Cinderella! Footwear had significance for medieval Christians, too. Looking closely at the figures in our early medieval Irish manuscripts, we see that some figures wear shoes and others do not. It is possible to identify many of these figures as portraits of the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Before they wrote their Gospels, these men were disciples of Christ.

Two Gospels record specific instructions that Christ gave his followers about shoes. The guidelines were given to the apostles as they were sent out on missions to preach. In Matthew’s Gospel (10.8-10), Christ advises the apostles to travel without money or a change of clothes and that they should not take shoes, either. Mark’s Gospel (6.9) gives similar instructions about travelling light, but recommends the wearing of sandals.

During the central Middle Ages, a few hundred years after our manuscripts were produced, new currents of thought about monastic practice sought to reconnect with early Christian practices. Monks were especially interested in imitating the apostles and their devotion was measured in austerity. Monastic leaders like Peter Damian (11th century) told their monks that they should not wear shoes or even cover their legs as a sign of their commitment to Christ. The link in the minds of these later medieval monks between early Christian behaviour and the renunciation of even the smallest luxury likely led to the iconographic convention of rendering the apostles barefoot.1 We see barefoot figures in the images for Matthew and Mark in the Book of Mulling and the evangelist on the left in the Garland of Howth (figs. 1a-b, 3a). Their lack of shoes, however, may not reflect their sanctity.

In the early Middle Ages, when our early Irish manuscripts were made, shoes were prescribed for monks. John Cassian (5th century), whose records of early Christian desert ascetics were so influential in the West, regarded sandals as appropriate footgear for hermits. Benedict (6th century), one of the earliest abbots in the West to write down guidelines of behaviour for monks, recommended that either shoes or sandals were worn. John in the Book of Mulling, Matthew, Mark and Luke in the Book of Dimma and the evangelist on the right in the Garland of Howth all wear shoes (figs. 1c, 2a-c, 3b).

Source.
Fig. 4 On the right, leather shoe found at Iona, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. Source.

Although medieval shoes have survived to this century, they are often in a fragmentary state. Shoes were made from leather and like other organic materials, they broke into pieces over the centuries. It may also be that the shoes were discarded only when they wore out and so have been mere fragments since the Middle Ages.2 Leather uppers from three styles of shoes were recovered in excavations at Iona, site of an important early medieval monastery. A reconstruction of one shoe type (fig. 4) proposes that it would have looked very much like the ankle boots worn by St. John in the Book of Mulling (fig. 1c).3

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Fig. 5 Shoe found in a bog, Carigallen, Co. Leitrim, early medieval, National Museum of Ireland, W. 10 © National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

The slippers worn by St. Mark in the Book of Dimma (fig. 2b) better resemble an early medieval shoe found in an Irish bog in Co. Leitrim (fig. 5). The majority of our Evangelists are equipped with the same footwear as the monks who made and used the Gospel books.

The Famous Mulling Drawing

One of the most intriguing features of the Book of Mulling is the well-known circular device drawn on its last page (TCD MS 60, f. 94v; fig. 1). Approximately contemporary with the rest of the manuscript, it consists of two concentric circles accompanied by crosses with captions and indications of directions in Irish including the four cardinal points.1

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Fig. 1 The Book of Mulling, 2nd half of the 8th century, TCD MS 60, f. 94v © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

The eight crosses around the outer circle are arranged in four pairs, each combining the name of an evangelist with the name of a prophet: from the top, clockwise, ‘cross of Mark’, ‘cross of Jeremiah’, ‘Matthew’ and ‘Daniel’, ‘cross of John’ and ‘Ezechiel’, and ‘cross of Luke’ and ‘cross of [Isaiah]’ (see figs. 2a-b). The inscriptions accompanying the four crosses contained inside the circles are partly illegible but one can still read, from top to bottom, ‘cross of the Holy Spirit’, ‘… with gifts’, ‘…with angels from above’ and ‘Christ with his apostles’.2

Fig. 2a From H. J. Lawlor, 'Notes on Some Non-Biblical matter in the Book of Mulling', in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1895), p. 37.
Fig. 2a From H. J. Lawlor, ‘Notes on Some Non-Biblical matter in the Book of Mulling’, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1895), p. 37.

Strong green copper staining particularly apparent on the first leaves of the volume indicates that the manuscript was kept for a long time in direct contact with its enclosing shrine (see previous post) without the protection of a binding. This explains why this last leaf (f. 94) is so discoloured and damaged: it got torn in various places and some parts of it were sewn back together (fig. 1). The poor state of the leaf makes the interpretation of the circular device even more arduous.

Hugh Lawlor, in 1895, saw it as a ‘map or plan of some sort’, pointing out the presence of cardinal points.3 He proposed, on the suggestion of Thomas Olden, that the diagram could actually represent the ecclesiastical site of St Mullins (Co. Carlow), with the crosses marking the location of monastic buildings or crosses, while the circles could ‘represent the Rath of St Molling [sic], within which were his ecclesiastical buildings; the concentric circles perhaps indicating a double or even triple rampart’.4 A few years later, he attempted to superimpose the diagram with a plan of the actual site, but he admitted that this was inconclusive: ‘It leaves Mr Olden’s suggestion nearly as it was before – a hypothesis highly plausible in itself, not indeed altogether free from difficulties […], but by no means improbable – yet still only a hypothesis: a theory which is not, perhaps cannot be, either proved or disproved.’5

Fig. 2b From L. Nees, ‘The Colophon Drawing in the Book of Mulling: a Supposed Irish Monastery Plan and the Tradition of Terminal Illustration in Early Medieval Manuscripts’, in Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies (CMCS) 5 (Summer 1983), p. 69.
Fig. 2b From L. Nees, ‘The Colophon Drawing in the Book of Mulling: a Supposed Irish Monastery Plan and the Tradition of Terminal Illustration in Early Medieval Manuscripts’, in Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies (CMCS) 5 (Summer 1983), p. 69.

In 1983, Larry Nees, while not rejecting entirely the plan hypothesis, added another layer of interpretation, arguing that it probably functioned closely with the preceding liturgical text (on the same page).6 He stressed that the pairing of evangelists and prophets had its roots in Carolingian art (see fig. 3) and that the scribe must have had at his disposal a Carolingian model when designing the circular device, which he considered as closer in function to a ‘colophon drawing’.

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Fig. 4 Maiestas Domini, Vivian Bible, Tours, c. 845-846. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Lat. 1, f. 329v. Source.

The hypothesis of a Carolingian model would mean that this part of the manuscript could date to as late as the mid-9th century.

-Catherine Yvard, Research Fellow, Department of History of Art and Architecture, Trinity College Dublin

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

Launch of the Digital Book of Mulling

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).

Fig. 4 Adhering a profiled repair to a damaged area on the edge of the folio (f. 76r) © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.
Fig. 1 Adhering a profiled repair to a damaged area on the edge of the folio (f. 76r) © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

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.

The Book of Mulling, 2nd half of the 8th century (TCD, MS 60, ff. 81v-82). © The Library of Trinity College Dublin.
Fig. 2 The Book of Mulling, 2nd half of the 8th century (TCD, MS 60, ff. 81v-82). © The Library of Trinity College Dublin.

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.

St Mullin's ©
Fig. 3 St Mullin’s ©R. Moss

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.

Fig. 2 Front of the Book-Shrine of St Moling, 1402 with later additions; 19 x 15.3 x 7.6 cm © National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.
Fig. 4 Front of the Book-Shrine of St Moling, 1402 with later additions; 19 x 15.3 x 7.6 cm © National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

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 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).

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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.

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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

Pocket Books

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’.

Fig. 1. The Book of Dimma, late 8th century (TCD MS 59, p. 107) © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

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 main characteristics of pocket Gospels are as follows: Continue reading Pocket Books

The Book of Mulling

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, 2nd half of the 8th century, TCD MS 60, ff. 81v-82r © The Board of Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. 2015.

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.