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The Armagh Satchel

The decoration harks back to the early medieval 'Golden Age' of Irish art, with every surface of the thick cow hide covered in interlace, zoomorphic features and crosses. The construction method is called cuir-bouilli: the saturated leather is worked over a form, possibly even damp sand, with the pattern shaped using bone or wooden tools. A brass lock and a line of brass loops, presumably for a rod to lock the large flap in position, were added later as supplementary 'bling'. The satchel was constructed from a single piece of thick cow hide. The pattern-shaping and stitching were very skilful, with the edges turned in so no seam was visible. This was no mean feat given the unyielding nature of thick hide, made even more rigid by its saturation and drying during the decoration process.

Satchels were generally not tailor-made but were more 'off-the-shelf' book containers. The Armagh Satchel has an internal capacity of about 300 x 250 x 40 mm, which could easily accommodate the diminutive Armagh manuscript.

Shelfmark: TCD MS 52***

John Gillis

Dr John Gillis is a member of the conservation team in the Preservation and Conservation Department. His work includes the safe display of our iconic illuminated manuscripts and the treatment of our bound collection with a focus on the medieval material. He has a particular interest in the codicology of early medieval insular manuscripts held in collections at home and abroad.