Christian - The Book of Kells

St. Mark's Gospel  Click to enlarge




Key Patterns

Human Forms

The Book of Kells, a record of the Gospels is perhaps the crowning glory of the Celtic art form, consisting of some 340 calfskin leaves featuring elaborate illustrations and Latin calligraphy and thought to have been prepared anytime between the middle 6th century to possibly as late as the 9th century AD. It may have been started by the monks of the island of Iona then moved to the Columban monastery of Kells, County Meath in Ireland to stop it falling into the hands of invading Vikings. Wherever it originated, it is estimated that it may have taken a small team of illustrators up to 30 years to complete. Although it is not the only manuscript book that is known to have existed, others including the Books of Durrow, Lindisfarne, St. Chad, MacRegol and MacDurnan survive in whole or partial form, it is generally regarded as the most accomplished and contains examples of almost all of the various forms and styles of Celtic art known to the scribes and artists of the time.
The page above shows the Initial page of St. Marks Gospel and illustrates the text 'Initium Evangelii Ihu Xpi' meaning 'The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ'.

St. John's Gospel  Click to enlarge


Although there are 340 leaves remaining, it is thought that some 30 have been lost throughout the books 1100 -1400 year history, indeed it was stolen in 1007 and its golden cover was never found. It finally passed into Trinity College Dublin in 1661 where it has remained since. However it seems that each Gospel was to be introduced with 3 decorative pages, a page illustrating the symbols of the evangelists with another showing the individual saint and an Initial page with the highly ornate opening words of the Gospel. Throughout the book there are further full pages illustrating important events in the life of Christ.
The Initial page of St. John's Gospel is shown above and contains the text 'In Principio erat Verbum et Verbum' meaning 'In the beginning was the Word and the Word...'


Symbols of the Evangelists  Click to enlarge

Other Zoomorphics

The book of Kells contains three Evangelists pages and it is probable that there was once a fourth. These show four winged forms with halos -  the symbols traditionally associated with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the Book of Revelations, they are described thus 'and around the throne were four beasts...and the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.' The lion represents Mark, the calf Luke, the man is Matthew and the eagle is attributed to John.
One theory suggests that the symbols are related to the life of Christ, it claims that the man symbolises the Nativity, the lion shows His royalty and majesty, the calf, as a sacrificial animal represents His sacrifice on the cross, and the eagle His ascending to Heaven.


Back to Celtic Index | Previous | Next
Home | Stone Circles | Pre-Raphaelite Pictures | Links | Email:

Bookmark and Share