Dublin ; The Book of Kells

by Veronica

I flew to Dublin for the day yesterday to see the Book Of kells. It has been a long-held wish of mine to see it. It did not disappoint!

I have always been interested in The Book of Kells and just before Covid Lockdowns, I undertook a course on Future Learn about it. Of course, this increased my desire to visit but we were not allowed to travel.

Yesterday, I fulfilled my wish.

The Book of Kells ( sometimes called the Book of St Columba ) is housed in Trinity College, part of Dublin University.


What is the Book of Kells ?

The book of Kells is a beautiful handwritten and drawn illuminated text of the gospels written in a Columban monastery in about the year c800AD.  The colours in the book, the artistry and the workmanship surpass any other religious text. 

The lavish illustrations are a sign of the respect and reverence shown to the text of the gospels.



History and Origins of the Book of Kells

The book's name comes from the monastery at Kells, Co. Meath in Ireland which was founded c. 807AD by monks who were escaping Viking attacks on the monastery of Iona, an isle in Western Scotland.

No one knows the exact date it was written but it was probably started on Iona at the end of the 700s and taken to Kells for completion. It stayed at Kells until the late 1600s when it was bought by and taken to Trinity College, Dublin. It has remained in the library at Trinity since that time. 

 It is believed to have been stolen at one point in 1007 from the western annex at Kells. 

Matthew, Mark ,Luke and John

Gospel writers
Gospel writers

Gospel writers in The book of Kells

Each of the evangelists has a symbol in the Book of Kells.

St Matthew's symbol is a man. This is to emphasise the human aspect of Jesus
St Luke's symbol is the ox which represents Jesus' sacrifice.
St Mark's symbol is the lion and shows Jesus' power and kingship
St John's symbol is an eagle and emphasises Jesus' ascension


Ogham Script


Ogham as it appears in Modern Irish is pronounced oa...hm. It was originally in old Irish Ogam (og...am ) . Ogham was an ancient Irish alphabet. It was incorporated into the Latin text and Roman alphabet in the book. 

Inks and dyes

The pigments used in the script were from plant and mineral-based sources.  The colours used were ;-

Carbon black

Iron gall

Red lead






Inks and dyes

Inks and dyes
Inks and dyes

Saint Colum Cille poem

This is an 11th Century poem written in honour of the followers of St Colum Cille and his followers who are believed to have scribed the Book of Kells and also The Book of Durrow. 


My hand is weary with writing 

My sharp quill is not steady

My slender-beaked pen juts forth

A black draught of shining dark-blue ink.


A stream of the wisdom of blessed God

Springs from my fair-brown shapely hand

On the page it squirts its draught

Of ink of the green-skinned holly. 


My little dripping pen travels

Across the plain of shining books

Without ceasing for the wealth of the great-

Whence my hand is weary from writing. 

Other Sacred texts at this time

About this time, significant anniversaries or events were often marked with an illustrated gospel book. For example, the Lindisfarne Gospels are believed to have been done in honour of St Cuthbert. These were done in approx 715, decades before The Book of Kells.

The Book of Durrow was created in County Offaly and predates Kells by nearly a century. It is an Insular script, which is a medieval  Irish script widely used in Christian texts at the time. The monastery at Durrow was also founded by St Colum Cille. 

Book Of Durrow

The Book of Durrow
The Book of Durrow

Book of Armagh


The Book of Armagh is believed to have belonged to St Patrick but this is felt to be unlikely given the dates.  It is also an illuminated text. 

Irish pocket gospels

The Irish pocket gospels of Dimma and Mulling were specific to Ireland and were illustrated copies. They are written in tiny Insular Script

Pocket Gospels

Pocket Gospels
Pocket Gospels

Carpet pages

Carpet pages were pages of illuminated decoration between some of the gospel pages of text. They are highly decorative.

Carpet page
Carpet page
carpet pages
carpet pages

To conclude

My long wait to see this yesterday was worthwhile. I was not disappointed. The display and exhibit are beautifully and simply presented.  The information is clear and understandable. I feel very privileged to see it but also very fortunate that it took me 36 minutes of airtime to reach Dublin to see this masterpiece. 

Updated: 04/04/2023, Veronica
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Veronica on 04/16/2023

Big Bro.
That is fascinating about the Scriptoria. it makes sense. Also, it was done over decades .

frankbeswick on 04/16/2023

I think that scribes knew when to rest. In mediaeval scriptoria there was a hand warming room that monks could use when their hands grew cold, so resting was accepted. But we must realize that it is unlikely that older monks with weakening hands worked in the writing task, as their eyes would have become long sighted and the page blurred.

Veronica on 04/11/2023

Brilliant question.
There were plenty of mistakes but the scribes did patterns and squiggles on them and illuminated them. Genius!!

DerdriuMarriner on 04/11/2023

The first stanza to your sixth subheading, Saint Colum Cille poem, cautions that "My hand is weary with writing / My sharp quill is not steady / My slender-beaked pen juts forth / A black draught of shining dark-blue ink."

There wasn't anything like the special eraser that erases ink or anything like white-out. So what would scribes do should their "weary" hands make mistakes?

blackspanielgallery on 04/10/2023

I understand not watching. I thought there was a chance it would have ended with the Queen's passing.

Veronica on 04/10/2023

Derdriu, No , I have no idea. What a typical waste of British tax payers' money on the super rich monarchy to have a different throne each time. That does not surprise me at all.
Thanks for the input,

DerdriuMarriner on 04/10/2023

There's an interesting, 3-page article, Guide to the Coronation Service, available online through the Wayback Machine. It's listed as reference number 3 on the Wikipedia article titled Liber Regalis.

That article mentions that the King moving from the Coronation Chair to the Throne means the completion of his anointing and crowning. It notes that each King gets his own Throne new-made for his anointing and crowning.

No source online offers what place all those monarch-specific thrones occupy!

The article places Queen Elizabeth II's anointing and crowning as coronation number 38. Would you know where all those 38 (going on 39) monarch-specific thrones would be?

Veronica on 04/10/2023

Thank you so much for the explanation. I had never heard of this before.

Looking at it, despite being approx 500 years apart, the two books are certainly similar in presentation. I am astonished that our government has not made Tourism Money out of it yet.

On a personal level, of course, we will not be watching the Coronation. :)

blackspanielgallery on 04/09/2023

I suspect the Coronation Book is Liber Regalis, an illustrated book from the 1300s. It is used for coronations and royal funerals. I watched a documentary that showed it with rare permission to view it beneath Westminster. It is not on public display if it is the same one featured in the documentary.

Veronica on 04/08/2023

I was unaware that there is a Coronation Book in UK. I must look into that. I did not know it existed.
Just "off the top of my head ", England only became unified as a country in the early 900s, a century after it is believed " The Great Gospel " ok Kells was started.

You are right about how the scribes attested their Art.

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