Between the 7th and 15th centuries the scribes of the European monasteries played a prominent role in cultural diffusion during the difficult and dark centuries of the Middle Ages. In this historical context, there is a book that stands out from the rest, the book of Kells (Book of Kells).
In terms of content, this manuscript includes the gospels written in Latin. It comprises 340 folios and is believed to have been created to be read during the Eucharist.
The book begins with prefaces, summary and concordances, only the gospels were written on calfskin (parchment). From the standpoint of paleography , Irish scribes developed a particular and different style, the “Insular” style. Book of Kells
The fact that several decorations were left unfinished or sketched out shows that their elaboration was slow and laborious. Later, it was learned that the text was written entirely in iron gall ink, made of iron salts and natural tannin. (ink that will be confirmed as the most used during the Middle Ages).
Its main feature is its generous ornamentation and full of sublime details. Influenced by Coptic Christianity, red dots that decorate the letters stand out. The initials are meticulously decorated with details, such as interweavings that draw the attention of the most important landscapes.
Another element that sets it apart are drawings of all kinds that can be appreciated: from animals such as the bull, the horse, the serpent and the peacock, through biblical figures such as Christ and the Virgin Mary , to mythological figures such as dragons. Book of Kells
In the text, many other influences can be observed, such as Byzantine and Armenian, making it an extremely rich and unique manuscript.
A manuscript with a long history
The Book of Kells was conceived on the island of Iona, off the Scottish coast, where the Irish missionary Columban founded a monastery in the mid-sixth century. It is believed that due to recurrent Viking raids, the book was not finished on the same island and had to move to the town of Kells, where it continued its development. Book of Kells
A thousand years later, around the 17th century, the Archbishop of Armagh deposited the book in the Irish library of Trinity College, where it is still on display. After an attempt at conservation, approximately thirty folios were lost, later it was decided that for better conservation it should be divided into four volumes.
In recent years, this gem of medieval literature has been digitized for the delight of researchers and the curious.