Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Book of Kells

4evangelists-sm On the day when nearly everyone is a little bit Irish, I was reminded of a grand work of art that Irish monks laboring in isolation on a tiny island just west of Scotland began work on around the year 750. For more than a century, monks on the island had been laboring faithfully to copy and preserve classical and biblical texts into what now is known as the Book of Kells

Perhaps the greatest illustrated version of the Gospels ever made, it only survived by an act of God. Sometime in the 9th century (after Vikings dropped by unannounced yet again), cautious monks moved the Book of Kells from its island home to the Abbey of Kells in eastern Ireland. Documents show the abbey was plundered several times before 1006, when thieves finally got their hands on the book, stripped it of its bejeweled golden cover, and flung it into a bog.

Considering that the volume spent a few months buried there before being rescued, it's in remarkably good shape. Today, the book is at Trinity College in Dublin, which has been its steward since 1660.

The above illustration depicts the authors of the four Gospels: Matthew as a man, Mark as a lion, Luke as an ox (or calf), and John as an eagle.


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