I bring to you with reverent hands the books of my numberless dreams.
In 9th Century A.D. Ireland, Monks brought a richly illustrated copy of the Four Gospels to Kells and established a Columban Monastery. The Monks had created this masterpiece on Iona, Scotland but fearing its destruction they brought it home to Ireland for safekeeping. The Book of Kells is now held at Trinity College in Dublin, and is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Dark Age art in Europe but almost no one remembers the small hamlet of Kells whose people kept the text safe for hundreds of years.
We visited Trinity College on our first day, a long wait in line, jostling crowds in the exhibit and an excited crowd of Freshers outside overwhelmed the actual experience of viewing this famous artefact. Housed in the Old Library, it is the most famous of thousands of manuscripts housed in this venerable place of learning. Not unlike the Mona Lisa in Paris, the Book of Kells is on everyone’s must see list for Dublin but most will file past the open pages swept along by the crowd, ticking a box on their list without really understanding the history or sacrifice required to create and preserve this beautiful text.
The Monks, great artisans and keepers of the Faith through the Dark Ages, created a text that evokes the majesty and splendour of Heaven and illuminates the Word of God for those privileged to be able to read the Gospels.
On our side trip to Ballyshannon, Colleen and I took a short detour to Kells and visited the village that preserved this copy of the Gospels for the modern tourist. St Columba’s Church stands on the site of the original monastery, and houses a copy of the book and a small historic exhibit of the site. Four great Celtic Crosses adorn the churchyard, and although the monastery is no longer evident in the grounds the history enveloped me as we walked through the graveyard and around the 16th Century church. The generations buried beneath our feet had protected the book for centuries but most would never see it, much less be allowed to read the Holy Gospels for themselves. Their sacrifice allowed us a glimpse into the luminous artistry of an age known for darkness and evil, and I’m glad we had the opportunity to visit the Book of Kells true home.