The Book Of Kells
The Book Of Kells

The Book Of Kells

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  • Pages: 7 (3443 words)
  • Published: November 26, 2018
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The Book of Kells: A Celtic Masterpiece

In a time when the British Isles were bombarded by raids from the ferocious

Vikings of the Scandinavian Peninsula, many works great works of art were

destroyed. Often, beautiful works were buried underground for safety. However,

many were never uncovered. One amazing work that managed to survive through

these tumultuous times was The Book of Kells. This sacred book has a rich

history in Ireland, which does not begin with the Viking raids, but centuries


In fourth century Ireland, Christianity was seen as a religion of the lower

classes and slaves. The majority of the population, including the aristocracy,

was pagans. It was not until the sixth century that Christianity became

prevalent among the aristocracy. This rise of Christianity in Ireland is partly

due to one of the patron saints of Ireland, Colum Cille, who later became St.

Columba of the Catholic Church.

Colum Cille was born in the year 521, and was destined to be the heir to the

throne of Ireland, for he was blood related to the leaders of the country. But,

he realized that he did not want to be part of the political scene of Ireland.

Instead, he wanted to devote his life to Jesus Christ. Therefore, he fled to the

island of Iona off the western coast of England.

On Iona, there were a few settlements of Irish, and Colum Cille established a

monastery, which became known as the Columban order. His monastery would send

missionaries to the rest of the Isles and to the continent, spreading the word

of Christ to the pagan tribes. It is mostly due to the missionary work of Colum


Cille’s monastery that Christianity became so prevalent in the British Isles.

But, in the ninth century, the island of Iona came under the attacks of the

violent Norsemen, and the monastery was abandoned. Many of the monks were killed

and the settlements plundered. The remaining monks fled back to the mainland and

established a monastery at Kells, in the County of Meath, which eventually

inherited the prestige that Iona had as the center of the Columban order. It was

here that they sought refuge from the Vikings threats.

Finally, in 878, the abbot of Iona, who was always referred to as “the

successor of Colum Cille”, went back to the monastery on Iona to retrieve

the shrine and other valuable items that remained there. Some think that the

book of Kells was one of these “precious objects of Colum Cille” that

were brought back to Kells. Over the next 120 years, Kells fell under the

attacks of the Vikings. The church of the Kells was destroyed and rebuilt

multiple times over this period. How any of the great works that were retrieved

from Iona survived these sackings is still unknown.

The first mention of The Book Of Kells in history was in the monastery

records in 1006, when it was stolen from the Church of Colum Cille in Kells. It

was not referred to as The Book of Kells, though. Instead it was called the

great gospel of Colum Cille, and was considered the most important relic of the

western world. It was also entered in the records that the book was found two

months later, but it had been buried and stripped of its of its gold, jewel

studded cover. After this entry, i

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is almost as if The Book of Kells had been

forgotten about until 1539, when the monastery was dissoluted.

Upon the dissolution of the monastery, Richard Plunket, the final abbot of

the monastery in Kells, gained ownership of The Book of Kells. Then, it is

believed that The Book of Kells fell into the hands of Geralde Plunket, most

likely a relative of the last abbot. On certain pages, there is writing that is

initialed “GP” and it gives the number of pages that were present,

upon his receiving of The Book of Kells. But, a lot of information is not known

about Geralde Plunket, and his ownership of The Book of Kells sometimes

contested. Originally, art historians and paleographers thought that James

Ussher, one of the earliest students of Trinity College and eventual Vice

Chancellor of the University of Dublin, Bishop of Meath, and Archbishop of

Armagh, had The Book of Kells in his possession, and passed it on to the Trinity

College Library, when he died. But, further evidence proved that James Ussher

never had The Book of Kells in his possession. Finally, William O’Sullivan, the

keeper of the manuscripts in the Trinity College Library, solved the mystery of

how The Book of Kells ended up at the Trinity College Library. His clues were

from the letters of Henry Jones, the donator of The Book of Durrow, and William

Pallister, a great benefactor to the library. From these letters, O’Sullivan was

able to determine that, like The Book of Durrow, Henry Jones donated The Book of


The place and date of creation of The Book of Kells is something that is

still under debate, today. This is due to the fact that The Book of Kells is

missing its colophon. If this colophon or final page was present it may have

answered a lot of the questions that are being debating. It may have included a

date or clue as to when the work was considered complete, a list of authors, and

possibly a list of artists.

Franoise Henry, an art scholar who has done extensive studies on The Book

of Kells, gives five possible explanations of the history of The Book of Kells

that art historians have been debating for years. Her first explanation states

that the monks of Iona wrote the text, and then brought the incomplete work to

Kells, where the artwork was worked on, but never actually completed. The second

possibility is that the work was begun in Iona and then completed in Kells. The

next possible explanation is that the work was done completely in Kells. Her

fourth possibility is that The Book of Kells was written in Northern England

(possibly Lindisfairne) and then brought to Iona and then Kells or even went

straight to Kells. The final possibility that Henry gives is that The Book of

Kells was a product of a Scottish monastery and somehow found its way to Kells

over the years. Henry seems to believe that one of the Iona to Kells hypotheses

fits best based on the on the features of the book. She says that the decoration

of the book is very similar to a lot of the metal work that was found in these

areas. She dates the end of work on The Book of Kells somewhere between the end

of the eighth century to the early

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