Closer than ever to the illuminations
The text pages were laid out by prick marks and drypoint ruling. The painted pages were created on single leaves, which may account for the loss of several that probably originally existed. Text on the reverse of the paintings was sometimes overallowed for. When the scribes came to write the necessary lines they had too much space, and this reveals something of how the work on the book was distributed (plates 169-171). Copying manuscripts was prone to error: line skipping and misreading of words (plates 172-178) are fairly common. The text pages may have been completed rapidly: in good conditions, a rate of about 180 words an hour was possible, but the elaborate decorated pages would have taken much longer.
Meehan sees discontinuity in the creation of the book (it is also unfinished), and some ornament is poorly done; some of the canon table entries are botched, and there is a complete change in their style of presentation to something like that in the Book of Durrow, also a Columban manuscript. The book is often said to have been created around 800, but we really do not know when it was begun and finished; it was probably within the eighth- to earlier-ninth- century range. Claims that it was started in Iona and completed at Kells after the community fled there are conjecture.
The richness of the manuscript must have vividly contrasted with the simplicity of the small Irish churches of the time, but who, apart from scribes and celebrants and privileged dignitaries, got to contemplate the detail of the ornament is a question not easily answered. This new book is a pleasure to read and to hold: it will bring you closer to the art of Kells than most of the people who witnessed the book being used in the liturgy in ancient times.
Reader offer A private viewing of the Book of Kells
The Irish Times and Trinity College Dublin are teaming up to host a Book of Kells readers’ event on Monday, December 3rd. The evening will include an illustrated talk by Dr Bernard Meehan in the Neill/Hoey Lecture Theatre of the Long Room Hub building at 5pm, followed by a private viewing of the Book of Kells exhibition in the Old Library. This is a free event, but there are only 98 places, to be given on a first-come-first-served basis. To book a place email firstname.lastname@example.org.