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Frederic William Burton - The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
Frederic William Burton
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The Sacred Book of Kells
A mini history of this Dublin "must see" treasure

interlacing design from book of kells

Book of Kells Interlacing Design

by Suzanne Barrett

Considered to be one of the most sacred manuscripts in Ireland, the Book of Kells forms the center of a stunning exhibition in Dublin's Trinity College. Each year hundreds of thousands of visitors arrive in the capital to marvel at the ancient text that features four gospels from the Bible in addition to a collection of captivating illustrations.

Many holidaymakers arriving in Dublin decide to kick off their trip by touring the city using Irish car hire services in order to see the sights at their own pace. However, visitors are sure to want to take their time viewing the sacred artefact in the library at Trinity College which has survived a staggering 1209 years.

The book itself is steeped in the distant past and has accompanied Ireland through its historical twists and turns since the beginning of the 9th Century. Written in Latin and containing the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, complete with beautiful drawings that reveal key moments in the Bible, some experts believe that the tome may have been created by Saint Columba who lived in the 6th Century and was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. However, modern theories date the book to be two hundred years older than this time, with Celtic monks as the authors.

The ancient manuscript is currently divided into four parts but it was originally one book. It contains 340 pages formed from animal-skin parchment that is decorated with intricate drawings of an Insular Art style. This type of illustration was popular at the time the gospels were transcribed and reflects the blending of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon culture in the hand-drawn images, which include such items as Celtic knots, zoomorphic and abstract elements. Its authors painstakingly transcribed the four gospels onto the parchment, in addition to writing prefaces and summaries of each section. Visitors to the college can learn more about the techniques used by the writers at its permanent Picturing the Word exhibition. This examines the process involved in creating the calf-skin parchment and sheds light on the meaning of the illustrations and the book itself which served as decoration to pay tribute to God. The interlacing itself was not designed to be a true representation of the existing world but rather symbolic images representing some aspect of or in the life of Christ.

Named after the Abbey of Kells monastery, the book was stored at the site in County Meath throughout the Middle Ages and was moved to Dublin for safekeeping following Oliver Cromwell's invasions in 1649. Now the tomes can be viewed at the universitylibrary long room which exhibits different parts of the books throughout the year.

Two volumes are normally presented with one showing intricate illustrations from the gospels, while a second gives visitors the opportunity to see the ancient handwritten text.

Until next time.

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