Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Guest Blog: The Book of Kells and the Trinity Long Room

Exciting news! My blog group posted our first of a series of academic blog posts on our blog Historical Adventurers. It is the long awaited post on the Book of Kells and the Trinity Long Room. Click here to meet my Blogging partners: Brad, Meghann, and Eva, and be sure to give them a round of applause for being such a fabulous group to work with and letting me post this here.


This is the first of our academic blog posts. This blog contains the adventures of Brad, Meghann, Elizabeth, and Eva.

 (Note: This post has very few pictures because we were not allowed to photograph the Book of Kells exhibit.)

The Book of Kells is a heavily decorated copy of the four gospels of the New Testament. Between the pages of gorgeous artwork, the four gospels are written in Latin, the scholarly language of that time. There is no exact date of when the book was written, but it is thought to date back to the early 9th century. The book is now at home in the Trinity College library where it was sent around 1654 for safe keeping. The Book of Kells is a very large, inconvenient, book that contains textual errors, which implies that the book was never intended to be read for its content, but rather acted as an altar decoration.

The Book of Kells was purely for decoration rather than practical use, therefore, during the same period as the Book of Kells, missionaries carried smaller utilitarian "pocket" gospels, the Book of Mulling is an example of this, that could easily be slipped into their satchel for travel.

The Book of Kells was completed in 384AD. It is interesting to examine how  this book was made and was able to last so long. Within the Book of Kells is a myriad of pigments including indigo, orpiment (yellow) , red lead, copper green and many others. These colors were  extracted from natural sources and mixed with other pigments to create new ones. These pigments and inks were painted onto pages of calfskin, commonly called vellum. Although expensive, vellum parchment was used for the Book of Kells because it gives the pages a solid, uniform white background. It is estimated that over 180 calfskins were used to create the Book of Kells.

Large folios were folded to create bifolios, something that would  look like a giant birthday card today. These bifolios were sewn together in sets of quires.  This form of construction allowed for measurements to be easily recognized in the quires.  The expected amount of folios for each quire is about four to twelve folios. When observed closely, the guidelines on the page, which were used to create bifolios, can still be seen. Although the  thickness of the folios varies, the vellum is of high quality, which is perhaps why the book has  withstood the test of time since it was first created. 

The penmanship of four different people can be identified in the Book of Kells. These mysterious scribes go unnamed, but the unique style of each gives its ideas as to the character of each. The Book of Kells was written in a formal style known as “insular majuscule.”

Scribe A who copied the Gospel of John, was very conservative and left the decorating of the parchment to another scribe. His manner was very strict and to the point of finishing the piece and soon as possible. Scribe B obviously enjoyed adding flourishes to his letters and had a habit of using colored ink rather than the standard black or brown. Scribes C and D copied Matthew, Mark, and Luke. 

The scribes would decorate the some of the pages to draw attention to a certain passage that they though particularly important. They often left the heavy embellishments to the goldsmith. Despite the differences in these four scribes, it is amazing to see how all their hard work was put together to create such a marvelous book that can still be seen today.

 The beauty of the Book of Kells was overwhelming. The amount of detail on every page showed the love of the Scripture. We all were overwhelmed with the amount of history captured in one room. How such a precious document could remain so pristine for so long. It showed the dedication and love of Christ exhibited by the monks. Their lifestyles, work, schedule, and lives all revolved around the word of God. It was an honor to be able to behold its beauty that they had worked so hard on. 

As beautiful and fascinating the Book of Kells was, we all agree that the long hall was even more spectacular. It was the most beautiful library any of us had ever seen, even though it is ranked second in the world. The smell of old paper fills your nose as you watch someone restore a book, returning it to its original glory. Since we could not take pictures in the Book of Kells exhibit, We've included some photos of the stunning long room, courtesy of Brad. 

Note from Elizabeth: My personal, promised story behind this trip to Trinity.
Before we went into the exhibition, we were told to take as much time as we wanted. It just had to be more than a half hour. I was in there taking notes on the Book of Kells for this blog, then I took notes on a section about ancient Irish writing and monastic life. Then I studied the fascinating way that this book was made and the symbolism and art that fills the pages of the Book of Kells. Then I read some poetry written by monks. At that point, I realized that no one else from my group  had been around for a long time so I forced myself to move on and view the Book of Kells itself. That takes a detailed study and I took some more notes. Finally, I climbed the stairs to the Long Room of the Library. The smell of aged books and unread stories filled my lungs. I was snapping a few pictures and soaking it in when Diana found me. It turns out that the last group for students to come out had been out for over half and hour and ALL the rest of the group were at dinner. So, Diana and I had to run across town and meet up with them, eat, and go to Riverdance. 
Riverdance itself caused some problems. We got there at least 15-30 minutes in advance, handed out the tickets and promptly realized that the tickets were for the wrong day. Diana was trying to figure their mess up out and they were getting ready to close the doors. We waited anxiously for a few minutes then right before they shut the doors we got our corrected tickets and ran in and got seated minutes before the event started.  
So... That is my side of the story. 

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