Book of Kells

In most Catholic Churches, on most Sundays, you’ll see a large book being carried in the entrance procession.  That’s the Book of the Gospels.  If you look at one up close, you’ll see that it’s a large, somewhat ornate book, containing the Gospel reading for each Sunday.  Although the Book of the Gospels has only recently started appearing in most Catholic parishes, the truth is, it’s a very old tradition.

One of the most famous books of the Gospels is the Book of Kells.  Although its precise origin is uncertain, the Book of Kells was probably created in the ninth century.  By the twelth century, it was at the Abbey of Kells in county Meath Ireland.  It is thought to have once had a jeweled gold cover, although the real treasures lie inside.

The book itself may be the finest illuminated manuscript in the world.  Although some sections have been lost or destroyed, today the book consists of 340 vellum leaves.  The text itself is in Latin, and is based on, but not identical to, St. Jerome’s Vulgate text.  The text is augmented and illustrated with incredibly detailed figures:  animals, human and fanciful creatures, and complicated geometric figures of interwoven knots and ribbons.  

Today this priceless treasure of Western art is in the custody of the Trinity College library in Dublin.  A CD-ROM of the full text is available, and you can find examples of the art of the Book of Kells on the internet.

The Book of Kells is a perfect illustration, not just of the art of the illuminated manuscript, but also of the way that faith motivates human creativity, connecting our spirits with the Divine through works of amazing beauty and human achievement.