Trinity unveils New Book of Kells Treasury and Display Case

The new Book of Kells Treasury and display case were unveiled in the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin today [September 14th, 2020]. The ninth century manuscript, one of Ireland’s greatest cultural treasures, will be showcased in all its magnificence in an exclusively designed case in the newly refurbished Treasury. It will provide an even more inspiring visitor experience, and signals a revitalisation of the culture, heritage and tourism sectors as the country emerges from COVID-19.

Marking the historic occasion, Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, Catherine Martin, said:

 “The opening of the new Book of Kells Treasury and display case is one of the most positive developments for the country’s culture, heritage and tourism sectors this year. It heralds a period of renewal and innovation for cultural organisations across Ireland. Trinity has safeguarded this priceless manuscript with leading technology and preventive conservation, ensuring the optimum environmental conditions, security and visual display. The conservation and preservation of our heritage for generations to come is of national importance. It ensures that this global icon will continue to be admired and studied by millions currently and into the future.”

The selected pages for the opening are from the Gospel of St Matthew, of the Virgin and Child (folio 7v) and Breves Causae (folio 8r).

World leading engineers, Goppion who designed cases for the Mona Lisa, the Crown jewels, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, exclusively designed the case.

The precious ninth-century manuscript will be viewed for the first time on a plinth in a free-standing tower, providing an inspiring experience to visitors. It will facilitate every single page to be displayed, on a rotating basis. This will include some of its most ornate pages which have not been on public display for many decades. The management of the display case incorporates best practice in stewardship of world heritage.

The Treasury housing the ornate manuscript has also been beautifully refurbished with spectacular wall-covering, magnifying the exquisite, ornate detail of the manuscript, together with special lighting that will also enhance the viewer’s experience.

The new display case and Treasury refurbishment was funded by Fáilte Ireland and a gift from donors, Carol and Murray Grigor.

Fáilte Ireland Head of Product Development, Orla Carroll said: ‘Fáilte Ireland was delighted to invest in this project to enhance one of Ireland’s best-known tourism experiences. The Old Library, and the Book of Kells, which has been on display in Dublin since the 19th Century, is one of Dublin’s most popular attractions. The enhanced visitor experience unveiled today is a perfect example of how innovative technology and smart orientation can be used to enrich the story of Ireland’s rich culture and heritage so that Dublin can continue to offer a high quality experience to tourists and locals looking to explore their own city, for many years to come.”

The Book of Kells is a globally recognised cultural icon. The lavishly decorated manuscript of the four Gospels is set apart from other manuscripts of the same period by the quality of its artwork and the sheer number of illustrations that run throughout the 680 pages of the book. It is bound in four separate volumes, one for each of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The selected pages for the opening are from the Gospel of St Matthew, of the Virgin and Child (folio 7v) and Breves Causae (folio 8r) which will be viewed for the first time in 30 years. This is the only major depiction of a woman in the entire Book of Kells. It is also the earliest known surviving image of the Virgin and Child in Western manuscript art.

The Book of Kells is chief among the collection of acclaimed Insular manuscripts currently housed in the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin. The Old Library’s manuscripts and world-class research collections span millennia and are viewed by millions of visitors and scholars.

 Librarian and College Archivist, Helen Shenton said: “We are delighted to be opening the new Treasury to the public. This new display case reflects the importance and beauty of the world-famous Book of Kells with its magnificent artistry and ornamentation, a unique icon admired by millions. It has been designed to protect the manuscript while providing an enhanced viewing experience for visitors. The Book of Kells has inspired generations of visitors, students and academics and will continue to do so for future generations as we preserve it with the highest conservation standards and the best technology.”

 Trinity Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast said: “Safeguarding the Book of Kells is imperative for the preservation and promotion of European culture and heritage. The Book of Kells is intrinsic to our history and culture and continues to be a source of innovation. The opening of the new Treasury is the first phase of Trinity’s ambitious redevelopment plans for the national heritage site of the Old Library in its unique dual role as a world-class library and a national cultural institution. The Old Library Redevelopment Project will conserve the Old Library and its world class research collections for the next century and beyond.”

The Old Library redevelopment project is a centrepiece of Trinity’s current philanthropic fundraising campaign, ‘Inspiring Generations’.  Central to the redevelopment plans is the conservation and protection of the 18th-century building along with its precious manuscripts and research collections, for generations to come.

Ends

Book of Kells pages on display for the opening (folios 7v-8r).

About the pages:

Two pages from the Gospel of St Matthew have been selected for the historic opening (folios 7v-8r). The first page (folio 7v) is of the Virgin and Child. The Virgin Mary is seated on a throne, holding the child Jesus on her knee. This is the only major depiction of a woman in the entire Book of Kells. It is also the earliest known surviving image of the Virgin and Child in Western manuscript art. The central figures are surrounded by four angels and framed by a border of animal interlace.

Six profile heads in the lower right-hand border direct the viewer’s gaze to the text on the facing second page Breves Causae (folio 8r), connecting the imagery across both these beautiful pages. Breves Causae is a list of contents for the Gospel of St Matthew written in a highly ornamented display script, declaring the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem of Judea.

The Treasury

The Treasury housing the ornate manuscript has been beautifully refurbished with wall-covering magnifying the ornate detail of the manuscript. The wallpaper is a magnification of folio 130r of the Book of Kells.

About the Book of Kells

The Book of Kells is one of the world’s greatest medieval treasures. It is a lavishly decorated copy of the four gospels written in Latin with supporting texts. It is set apart from other manuscripts of the same period by the quality of its artwork and the sheer number of illustrations that run throughout the 680 pages of the book.  It was intended for ceremonial use on special occasions such as Easter rather than for everyday use. It is not known exactly when the Book of Kells was written but it is thought that it may have been around 800 AD.  It was written and illustrated by hand by three monks using all of their own handmade materials including vellum, inks and pigments. It is believed that the Book of Kells was written in a monastery founded by St Colum Cille on Iona in Scotland. Viking raids were widespread at the time of the creation of the Book of Kells and it became too dangerous for the monks to continue living on the island. Terrified by the raids, the monks fled from Iona to their sister monastery in Kells, Co Meath, around 806AD. It is not known if the book was written wholly in Iona or if part of it was written in Kells, but we know that it remained in Kells throughout the Middle Ages and eventually, it was placed in the Library of Trinity College by Bishop Henry Jones of Meath in 1661.