Pages on display

Learn about the current opening of the Book of Kells.
Folio 201v

Gospel of Luke folio 201v

The Book of Kells was written in Latin, on vellum (calfskin), close to the year 800 AD. This masterpiece of medieval art tells the story of the life of Jesus Christ through the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospel of Luke is currently open at folios 201v-202r: LUKE 3. 32-38

The ancestors of Jesus Christ are listed in elegant symmetry across these folios, opening with ‘Who was of Naasson’ at the top left-hand folio and closing with ‘Who was of Adam/ Who was of God’ at the bottom of the right-hand folio.

The text opens with a frieze of five colourful figures forming the initial Q of Qui, meaning ‘Who’. The first four figures clutch each other’s hair, while the fifth man is holding up an olive branch. Can you spot them?

At the mid-point of the third column a small, cloaked figure, holding a chalice, sits above the name Abraham, forefather of Jesus. This may allude to the Old Testament account of Melchisedech, king of Salem, offering bread and wine to Abraham.

A calf, symbol of St Luke, appears at the foot of the folio, as a visual prompt to the reader that this is the Gospel of Luke.

folio 202r

Gospel of Luke folio 202r

The formulaic genealogy is continued on the right-hand folio but here the styling of the repeated word Qui features uniquely designed crosses.

Each Q forms an altar cross, stacked one upon another, with the final one, mounted on a stepped base, sitting at the edge of the altar at the foot of the page.

A bearded man stands behind this altar gazing intently. His body is partially hidden behind two highly decorative panels with intertwined peacocks (resurrection symbols) on the left and vines issuing from a chalice on the right (eucharistic symbolism).

Another distinctive feature to this folio is the faded outline of a face which is emerging between the 2nd and 3rd columns. The translucent quality of the vellum has resulted in show-through from the following page: the face of Jesus depicted on the Temptation page (folio 202v). Can you spot it?

By Felicity O’Mahony Assistant Librarian at the Old Library