The Old Library of Trinity College, where the Book of Kells is housed, imposes limits on the number of visitors who can enter at one time, which can cause a queue. Be sure to get there early on busy days!
The Book of Kells is perhaps the finest historical artefact anywhere in Ireland. Created in roughly the year 800 by a tireless group of monks, it consists of 340 sheets of the highest quality vellum (prepared calf skin) on which are transcribed the four gospels, together with subsidiary texts and numerous elaborate illustrations.
The Emigration to Ireland
The origins of the book have been subject to considerable debate over the years, and there are at least five competing theories regarding its creation. Probably work on it started in a monastery on the small Scottish island of Iona. The issue then becomes confused because the location was plundered by Vikings in 806, leaving dozens dead, and after which the resident monks left for Kells in Ireland. How much of the text was finished by the time they moved is impossible to determine. Either way, it remained in Kells Abbey for centuries, miraculously escaping the repeated Viking raids on the Abbey, and eventually found its way to the Old Library of Trinity College, Dublin, where it has been on display since the mid-19th century.
Looking at the illuminated manuscript today, you cannot help but feel a sense of awe at the intricacy and density of the illustrations and text. The calligraphy is extremely impressive, in the “insular majuscule” style, and appears to have been written by three different scribes. There are ten full-page images of then-unprecedented complexity, including one of the Temptation of Christ and another of the Arrest of Jesus. They all employ a far wider range of colours than was typical at the time, and the Book of Kells’ imagery is particularly noted for its combination of minute detail and bolder, larger-scale compositions. For anyone interested in history, this is not to be missed.
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