Illuminating the Middle Ages

The Library is home to a unique collection of around 450 medieval Latin manuscripts, spanning a period of 800 years. Until now, the catalogue has existed solely in hard copy but it has been taken from the shelves of the reading room and made globally accessible online through our Manuscripts and Archives online catalogue, available here. You can search specific manuscripts by title, reference number or any keyword relevant to your area of interest – or simply search for the phrase ‘medieval manuscripts’ to have a browse.

TCD MS 52, folio 32v

The most effective way to illustrate the scope of this project is to provide some insight into the array of items that come under the umbrella of Trinity’s Latin manuscript collection. Perhaps the most well-known group consists of seven Early Irish Christian manuscripts dating from Ireland’s golden age of faith and culture. Among the seven are the Book of Armagh (TCD MS 52) and the Book of Kells (TCD MS 58), which are among the most famous manuscripts in Ireland and, in the case of the latter, the world. All seven of these manuscripts have now been conserved, fully imaged and are available freely online through the Library’s Digital Collections.

The medieval collection includes luxuriously illuminated Books of Hours, confessors’ handbooks, psalters and bibles, to name but a few. The Book of Kells may be the most magnificently decorated Insular manuscript in existence but does it have a plate-spinning dog? No.

TCD MS 35, folio 17v

TCD MS 632 presents a kind of fifteenth-century classical handbook for medieval readers. Through articles, diagrams and maps, the book accounts for multiple aspects of classical study including mythology, geography and history. These small circular diagrams represent the rivers of the classical world. The larger infographic here relates to the length of time it takes individual planets to orbit the earth (the word terra is marked in the centre). The seven zones of the earth (including the arctic and temperate) are illustrated on folio 108r, identifying which zones are habitable and which are not. There is also a brief note beneath the diagram referring to the nine Muses of Greek mythology.

TCD MS 632, folios 107v-108r
TCD MS 10994, folio 1r

This charming fellow situated inside the large letter Q of TCD MS 10994, likely depicts Michael of Belluno in Italy; the named scribe of this manuscript. The text serves as a guide for confessors, a list of sins and omissions committed by society, including (but not limited to) boasting, dancing, fighting, superfluous drinking, cursing, gluttons who eat too quickly, men in curled wigs, women who indulge in cosmetics and listening to arousing music.

Other standout examples include the Ricemarch psalter, a Latin text of Welsh origin in an Irish style, and the Dublin Apocalypse (TCD MS 64, pictured below), a fourteenth-century manuscript depicting the Final Judgement in gold and vivid colour that is simultaneously beautiful and grotesque. This particular illustration is the horseman of war, identifiable by his fiery red horse and his big ol’ sword.

If you would like to learn more, here is a quick and shameless plug for our Illuminating the Middle Ages online exhibition which went live in January of this year, available at the following link.

TCD MS 64, folios 3v

The Temptation Page of the Book of Kells

kells 58 f202vThe third Temptation of Jesus (f. 202v) is currently on display in the Old Library. The episode is described later in the narrative, at Luke’s Gospel 4.9–13 (f. 204r), where Satan urges Jesus to throw himself from the roof of the temple in Jerusalem in order to demonstrate that the angels will save him:

‘And [the devil] brought him to Jerusalem and set him on a pinnacle of the temple and said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself from hence. For it is written that He hath given his angels charge over thee that they keep thee. And that in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering, said to him: It is said: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’

Jesus is represented on a shingle-roofed building which resembles an Irish shrine, with lions as finials. Protected by angels directly above him and in the top corners of the page, he holds out a slender glass vessel, possibly a chalice filled with Eucharistic wine, in response to the small, black winged figure of Satan on the right. Stylized peacocks, symbols of his Resurrection, are placed within the crosses on either side of Jesus.

The image presents many complexities and difficulties of interpretation. The haloed figure with crossed flabella at the centre of the temple may portray Christ as Judge in a Last Judgment scene. The temple and Jesus may represent, in an almost literal manner, the body of the church with Christ as its head, while the human figures – thirteen at the foot of the page and nine to Jesus’ right – seem to represent the faithful of the congregation. It is also possible to read the page as the ground plan of a church with four pillars, showing both side and front elevations.

The figure of Satan has been disfigured by around twenty small stab marks to the neck, the arms and the torso. This controlled attack, not visible to the naked eye at first glance, seems to have been undertaken at a time when the book was bound, with the knife going through the vellum to previous leaves. The date of this intervention in the life of the Book of Kells is impossible to determine with accuracy, though it may be supposed to have occurred in the middle ages.

See the Book of Kells for yourself.

Bernard Meehan

Reflecting on the Book of Kells

Kells banner image June 2015 croppedA meeting around the Book of Kells, the world’s most famous medieval manuscript, was held in Trinity College Dublin on September 10th and 11th.

Bernard Meehan, M&ARL
Bernard Meehan, AMARC Chair

Entitled ‘The Book of Kells: Rethinking and Researching a Great National Treasure’, it featured leading manuscript, conservation and imaging experts who presented papers on research trends and techniques, and on the challenges faced in displaying great manuscript treasures. Continue reading “Reflecting on the Book of Kells”

Book of Kells Conference

Kells banner image June 2015 croppedThe Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections (AMARC) is delighted to open the booking for the forthcoming conference to be held at Trinity College Dublin on 10-11 September 2015.

THE BOOK OF KELLS: RETHINKING AND RESEARCHING A GREAT NATIONAL TREASURE

This conference will focus on the Book of Kells, the world’s most famous medieval manuscript, with presentations on recent research trends and techniques, and on the challenges faced in displaying great manuscript treasures.

Rachel Moss, ‘Celtic Tiger Tales: Recent Developments in Insular Art Research’
Bernard Meehan, ‘Researching the Book of Kells’
Denis Casey, ‘Cows, cumala and Kells: the medieval Irish economy and the production of a masterpiece’
Heather Pulliam, ‘Material Matters: The Role of Colour in the Book of Kells’
Susie Bioletti, ‘Pinning down the pigments and techniques on the Book of Kells’
Christina Duffy, ‘How to improve medieval manuscripts using colour space analysis and other techniques’
Michael Brennan, ‘Taking apart a page in the Book of Kells: the eight-circle cross’
John Gillis, ‘The Faddan More Psalter: conservation, research and display’
Sally McInnes, ‘New access to Welsh national treasures’
Claire Breay, ‘Celebrating an 800-year-old document: the case of Magna Carta’
Edward J. Cowan, ‘The Declaration of Arbroath and its display’
Peter Yeoman, ‘Prowling lions and slippery serpents: re-presenting Columba’s Iona to the world’

In addition to these speakers, announced previously, Tomm Moore has agreed to talk on the subject of ‘Bringing the Book of Kells to Hollywood’. Tomm is co-founder and creative director of Cartoon Saloon, Kilkenny. His feature film The Secret of Kells (Best Animated Feature Nominee: Academy Awards ®, 2010) has been followed by The Song of the Sea, again an Oscar nominee in 2014.

Sessions will run from 10:30-17:00 on Thursday 10th September and from 09:30-16:00 on Friday 11th September. On Thursday evening there will be a special after-hours visit to the National Museum of Ireland and a reception at TCD Library including a private visit to the Book of Kells. On Friday afternoon there will be a private visit to the Worth Library. The detailed programme will be published shortly.

The cost of the conference is £50 (€60) for members and students and £60 (€75) for non-members which includes Thursday lunch, teas and coffees, and the reception.

This is sure to be a popular conference and places are limited. To book, please complete the online form on the AMARC website.

Limited bursaries are available from AMARC for students who are – or would like to become – members, covering travel by the most reasonable means of transport. Bursary application forms are available from the treasurer via email (m.m.n.stansfield@durham.ac.uk).

If you have any questions about the conference, please contact: Dr Suzanne Paul (sp510@cam.ac.uk).

Bernard Meehan

Designing ‘The Secret of Kells’

IMG_9697Designing the Secret of Kells, by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, with a foreword by Charles Solomon (Trinquétte Publishing, 2014)

For historians and curators, the imaginative recreation of the past presents particular, but frequently unacknowledged, difficulties. The skills needed to establish chronologies, or to tease out the causation behind historical events, or to make academic judgements about works of art, are quite different from those needed to convince an audience of the reality of the past. For this, works like Michael Crichton’s Timeline, or the movie of The Name of the Rose, allow us to glimpse a remote physical and intellectual past.IMG_9707 In the animated film The Secret of Kells, nominated for an Oscar award in 2009, the atmosphere of Ireland’s medieval monasteries and their famous artistic output is captured brilliantly by Cartoon Saloon of Kilkenny. Dwelling on the turbulence of the times, the film reveals a monastic world which is both open to visitors from abroad yet at risk from outside forces. In its inspired artistic asides, it mirrors the extraordinary qualities of the Book of Kells itself and seems to follow in a technical line from the work of the stained-glass artist Harry Clarke. When snow falls on the monastery, individual flakes take the form of crosses drawn in a myriad of designs. Such scenes call for repeated viewings and live long in the memory.IMG_9706 cropped

IMG_9704 croppedIn this new publication, Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart of Cartoon Saloon explain how they did it, and, of equal interest, they say who did what. We learn that Ross Stewart designed the scriptorium at Iona, that Tomm Moore devised the individual characters in the scriptorium, one of them a tribute to the actor Mick Lally, who played Brother Aidan and died in 2010, shortly after the release of the film, and that Adrien Merigeau was responsible for a different realisation of the scriptorium. Many a scholar of the Book of Kells would wish for such a guide.IMG_9712

 

Bernard Meehan