The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel Book, written in Latin, containing the Four Gospels. It was made in Ireland in a Columban monastery of Iona at the end of the seventh or beginning of the eighth century. It is written on vellum in a bold and expert style of script known as “insular majuscule”.
The “insular majuscule” script of the text itself appears to be the work of at least three different scribes. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of insular illumination. The book is also widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure.
The four Gospels in Latin were completed in 384 AD by St. Jerome. The ornamentation that covers them includes ten full-page illustrations and text pages that are vibrant with decorated initials and interlinear miniatures and mark the furthest extension of the anti-classical and energetic qualities of Insular Art.
The full pages of decoration for the canon tables are symbols of the evangelists. There are pictures of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Also, there is a portrait of Christ ( it is the most famous page known as Chi Rho, the first letters of the word Christ in Ancient Greek), complex narrative scenes, The Virgin and Child and more. The book has been bound in four volumes since 1953, today, the manuscript comprises 340 folios.
The manuscript takes its name from the Abbey of Kells, which was its home for centuries. The Book of Kells was kept there during the later medieval and early modern periods before finally leaving the monastery in the 1650s. The Archbishop Ussher presented the book to Trinity College, Dublin, where it is the most precious manuscript.
The book has been on display in the Old Library at Trinity College since the mid 19th century, and now attracts in excess of 500, 000 visitors a year. The library displays two of the current four volumes at a time, and the entire manuscript can be viewed on the Library’s Digital Collections Repository.