Book Of Kells Video Series and Digital Book of Kells Online

Click here for my previous 2013 post for the Feast of St Colmcille held on Sunday June 9th.

St Colmcille was a renowned scribe and he trained his monks to become expert scribes. It was Colmcille's monks who many years later produced the Book of Kells, so it seemed timely to do a post on this wonderful testament of Christian faith.

The Book of Kells contains the four Gospels in Latin based on the Vulgate text completed by St Jerome in 384 AD, intermixed with readings from the earlier Old Latin translation. 

The Gospel texts are prefaced by other texts, including "canon tables", or concordances of Gospel passages common to two or more of the evangelists; summaries of the gospel narratives and prefaces characterizing the evangelists.

 The book is written on vellum (prepared calfskin) in a bold and expert version of the script. It contains 340 folios, now measuring approximately 330 x 255 mm; they were severely trimmed, and their edges gilded, in the course of rebinding in the 19th century. 

Scribe cuts large pieces of parchment into smaller regular sizes. Source

 The Book of Kells features ornate drawings of the Apostles and other Biblical figures that resemble stained-glass window images. The book was completed circa 800 A.D

As the original is stored in Trinity College Dublin under glass, only two pages are displayed at any one time. The page is turned every month so. Given that there are 340 pages, it would take approx 14 years to see the whole book, but it's also amazing to think that a single page could have taken one monk a whole lifetime to illustrate. 

 I can't vouch for the authenticity of this next collection but I suppose it's not that unrealistic to imagine medieval monks scribbling a few complaints in the margins of their manuscripts. More from here.

Image detail from digital i-pad version Book of Kells Source
Click here to see the beautiful initial letter images.

and click here for more imagery of wildlife, decorations, ornaments and other images.

Click here for an illuminating article (groan) on how the monks or Kell's Angels, managed to draw with such precision and detail.

I coudn't resist including this next image of a monk astride a writing desk called a wyvern. It's not Irish but German from the 12th century. Vorspring Durch Technik !


There are seven wonderful videos below in a series on the book of Kells. 
 Each video is about ten minutes duration. 

The blurb below is from the You Tube site accompanying the videos.

"Around the year 750, Irish monks laboring in isolation on a tiny island of Iona off Scotland's West coast began work on a book that would outlast empires, a book that many say may be the greatest illustrated version of the Gospels ever made. 
Well, it wasn't quite a book really. It was a codex--the first step up from a scroll and toward a modern bound and printed book. Codex salesmen were quick to tout the advantages: you can open a codex to any page (try that with a scroll), you can write on both sides of the parchment or (in the deluxe model) vellum, and you can bind together long works. 

For more than a century, the small monastic community on the tiny island had been laboring faithfully to copy and preserve classical and biblical texts that few in Europe even knew existed. It wasn't an easy life. The monks lived and worked in beehive-like stone structures with few creature comforts. But their art has been called the work of angels.

Image detail from Gospel of Luke Book of Kells Source

 The Book of Kells was to be their masterwork: the four Gospels of the Christian faith laid lovingly onto the page in Latin and brought to life by the best and most colorful art of the age. For the monks who labored over every figure, it wasn't simply a book. It was the Word of God made manifest, and a devout and passionate prayer offered to the Word's source. "
Four evangelists clockwise from top left : Matthew, Mark, John and Luke Source

 Click here for partially enlarged image of Matthew and Mark

 The origin of these zoomorphic symbols of the evangelists is from an interpretation of the early Church concerning the mention of the four beasts in the Prophet Ezekiel - Read it here and in the Book of Revelation here.

 Taken together they represent Christ’s four faceted relation to the world.

  • "Matthew, the winged man. Matthew's gospel starts with Jesus' genealogy from Abraham; it represents Jesus' Incarnation, and Christ's human nature.
  • Mark, the winged lion – a figure of courage and monarchy. John the Baptist the fore-runner of Christ preaches "like a lion roaring" at the beginning of his Gospel. Some authors say it represents Jesus' Resurrection because lions were believed to sleep with open eyes, a comparison with Christ in the tomb, and Christ as king.
  • Luke, the winged ox or bull – a figure of sacrifice, service and strength. Luke's account begins with the duties of Zacharias in the temple; it represents Jesus' sacrifice in His Passion and Crucifixion, as well as Christ being High priest and also represents Mary's obedience.
  • John, the eagle – a figure of the sky, and believed to be able to look straight into the sun. John starts with an eternal overview of Jesus the Logos and goes on to describe many things with a "higher" level than the other three synoptic gospels; it represents Jesus' Ascension, and Christ's divine nature." 
Source Wikipedia
Click here for a great site dealing with the artistic symbols used by artists through the centuries to depict the four evangelists.
Portrait of St John  Book of Kells Image source

Pages of the text and drawings are shared in the videos and the narrator explains why so many experts believe The Book of Kells is such an incredibly rare and valuable work of Irish art.

Music by Michael McGlynn and performed by Anuna
Part One

Part  Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

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