The Wandering Word Conference

Last week, scholars and enthusiasts of Insular art and manuscripts gathered at the Trinity Long Room Hub for many stimulating papers and lively discussion at our conference – The Wandering Word: the travels of Insular manuscripts.

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.

Susie Bioletti and Alysson Smith speaking at The Wandering Word Conference on 5 May 2016.
Susie Bioletti and Allyson Smith speaking at The Wandering Word Conference on 5 May 2016.

Palaeography received attention from several speakers.  Initials were the focus of calligrapher Tim O’Neill’s engaging talk about the migration of letter forms.  Staying with script, Mark Stansbury presented his recent work on the palaeographic form of Codex Usserianus Primus (see previous post) compared to scripts of late antiquity.  Francis Newton delivered much-anticipated revelations about Insular scripts found on binding strip fragments in a German Library.

Early medieval book culture was also the focus of papers by some of our speakers.  Dáibhí Ó Crónín spoke of the scriptorium at Echternach as a ‘factory’ for manuscripts. Michelle Brown looked at the significance of manuscript biography to medieval audiences.  Carol Farr examined fragments of codices in the St. Gall library and their relationship to a ‘midland school’ of manuscripts.  David Dumville focused on a single manuscript likely produced under Insular influence but which was well-travelled in Carolingian Europe.

Heather Pulliam, Bernard Meehan and answer questions after their session at the Wandering Word Conference on 6 May 2016.
Heather Pulliam, Bernard Meehan and Paul Mullarkey answer questions after their session at the Wandering Word Conference on 6 May 2016.

The ornamentation of sacred books was the topic of another group of papers.   Heather Pulliam discussed ‘pectorality’ in images of scribes and monks carrying books in painting and  on sculpture.  Rachel Moss, aided by recent photography, offered new analysis of the decoration in the Garland of Howth (see previous post).  Paul Mullarkey extended the conversation with his consideration of the shrines (see previous post) in which the Books of Dimma (see previous post) and Mulling (see previous post) were kept.  The papers were concluded by a marvellous reminder from Joanna Story of all the opportunities which scholars have to apply recent techniques and theories to early medieval material.

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Conference delegates viewing the project Gospel manuscripts in The Long Room of the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin.

All conference delegates had the rare opportunity to see all four Gospel books as well as the shrine of the Book of Dimma.  The special one-day exhibition was organized by the Trinity College Dublin Library.  It was a feast for the eyes and the intellect.

Rachel Moss points out features on the cross head at St. Mullins.
Rachel Moss points out features on the cross head at St. Mullins.
The holy well at St. Mullins.
The holy well at St. Mullins.

Delegates also enjoyed an excursion to the reputed home of the Book of Mulling (see previous post).  Of special interest was the early medieval chapel at the holy well.  A few members of the group took advantage of an impromptu baptism.  After our visit to St. Mullins and a stop in Borris for lunch, we continued up the Barrow Valley to see two more important early medieval sites – Castledermot and Moone.

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North Cross at Castledermot.

It was a pleasure to welcome all the conference participants to Dublin.  We would especially like to thank all the speakers who contributed papers to our event.  The animated conversations of all the delegates were also much appreciated.  Julie Tyrlik, an intern in the Trinity College Dublin Conservation department, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help the conference flow smoothly and we are grateful to her.  Finally, the success of our conference would have been impossible without the funding we received.  We gratefully acknowledge the support of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute, Trinity Irish Art Research Centre (TRIARC) and the Trinity Association and Trust.

-Susie Bioletti, Rachel Moss, Colleen Thomas

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Colleen Thomas, Susie Bioletti and Rachel Moss in The Long Room of the Old Library at TCD.