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.
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.
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.