The Book of Kells

I recently visited the Book of Kells, in the grounds of the beautiful Trinity College in the heart of Dublin city. Not my first visit, but always a treat. Walking through the entrance to the university, the silence strikes you as the noise from the traffic just metres away fades into the distance. The exhibit is well signposted throughout the grounds, so is easy to find.

The Book of Kells is an Irish national treasure. It depicts the four Gospels of the New Testament, in Latin, with accompanying illustrations, rich with Christian symbolism. Its exact origination is unknown, but it is widely believed to have been begun at Iona and finished at Kells, all by Columban monks, in the 9th century.

On entering, there is the Darkness Into Light exhibition. It explains how vellum and ink were made and how the monks of the era made such manuscripts. Generally, one did calligraphy while another did the illustrations. A brief history of the abbey at Kells, which gives the book its name, is also outlined. There were a lot of Viking raids and fires! There is a lot of information given here, which is great for adding to the background of the main event itself.

Then it’s on to the Book in a suitably darkened, guarded room. There are two books on display at the moment (the manuscript was rebound in 4 volumes in 1953). It’s hard to describe how impressive it is. The level of detail obtained is mind-boggling when you think it was done free-hand, by candlelight. Not only how they managed to get such detail, but the perfect repetition of highly detailed patterns is also humbling.

After staring at the pages on display for some time, we went on through to The Long Room in the Old Library, built in the 18th century, where we both agreed we wanted to live. It’s just stunning. A beautiful space, filled floor to ceiling with old books, and lined with marble busts of famous people from Plato to Jonathan Swift. You can also see a copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic here. The Trinity Library is the largest in Ireland and serves as a legal deposit library.

The Long Room in the Old Library of Trinity College Dublin

The Long Room – Old Library

The exhibit is open 7 days a week, all year round. Admission is €11 for adults, €9 for students. Note that the queues can be quite long in summer but you can prebook tickets online.

The entire manuscript can be viewed here.


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