Pages on display

Learn about the current opening of the Book of Kells.
A page from the Book of Kells

Gospel of Luke folio 200v

The Gospel of Luke is currently on display at folios 200v-201r.

The date and place of origin of the Book of Kells have long been subjects of controversy. A monastery founded around 561 by the Irish saint Colum Cille on Iona, an island off Mull in western Scotland, became the principal house of a large monastic confederation. In 806, following a Viking raid on the island which left 68 of the community dead, the Columban monks took refuge in a new monastery at Kells, County Meath, and for many years the two monasteries were governed as a single community. It must have been close to the year 800 that the Book of Kells was written, although there is no way of knowing if the book was produced wholly at Iona or at Kells, or partially at each location. In the Middle Ages the manuscript was revered at Kells as the great gospel book of Colum Cille.

The possible doves on folio 201r of the Book of Kells may be a wordplay on Colm Cille’s name in religion ‘Columba’, which is Latin for dove. The link to ‘Columba’ is alluded to again in the figure, half man and half fish, in the central column, who holds the final letter of fuit in the line Qui fuit Iona (‘son of Jona’, literally ‘who was of Jona’; Luke 3.30), possibly drawing attention to the word Iona (the Hebrew for dove) and so perhaps to the name of Colum Cille.

Page with ancient inscribes from the Book of Kells

Gospel of Luke folio 201r

Minor decoration in the Book of Kells text pages focusses on the initial letters of words and on scribal motifs directing the eye of the reader to specific passages or words. On folios 200v and 201r animals and birds intertwine a colourful row of decorated Qs (of Qui Latin for ‘who’).

On folio 200v series of triple dots emerge from the top strokes of the ts of fuit (Latin for ‘to be’) but appear to be unfinished as they are not seen on the last two lines of the folio and they are not all infilled with yellow. Triple dots evoke the doctrine of the Trinity: God exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Note the stitching in the vellum across the top right of folio 201r, indicating a careful repair to the parchment, which was an expensive commodity not to be wasted.

Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin

By Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin M.Phil, Manuscripts Curator, Research Collections