The Book of Kills

Ireland’s Most Famous Book Might Actually Be Two Books

The history of the Book of Kells, which for those who don’t know is the most famous early medieval manuscript surviving today and arguably the coolest artifact on display in Dublin, is currently being rewritten due to new revelations that came to fruition last week. 


The lavishly illustrated manuscript attracts over 500,000 visitors down to Trinity College Dublin each year to study the pages themselves. The Book of Kells is thirteen inches wide and ten inches high and consists of 340 folios made from calfskin vellum, and it really is a sight to behold…even if Medieval art and scripture isn’t your thing.


one of Four Gospels

Image Via The Independent


The Book of Kells has been under daily scrutiny by historians since its time at Trinity. A detailed analysis of the texts has led leading expert on early medieval illuminated manuscripts, Dr Bernard Meehan of Trinity College, Dublin, to the conclusion that the book was originally two separate works. He now believes the two parts of the book were created up to half a century apart.


Dr. Meehan’s new hypothesis suggests that the last book, St John’s Gospel, was written by a potentially elderly scribe on the Scottish island of Iona in and around the last quarter of the eighth century.  The traditional style of this scribe is able to be distinguished against the styles of the other younger monks involved in the manuscript’s creation. But he also believes the rest of St Mark’s Gospel and the Kells copies of the Gospels of St Luke and St Matthew were created up to fifty years later in Ireland.


The expert can also tell by reading historical records of Viking invasions that went down around the time of the transcribing in Iona that there were multiple slayings of monks by Viking warriors who were invading Britain at the time, and with the introduction of a new colony of people, bacterial epidemics do occur. In this case, scientists have suggested that smallpox also took the lives of many, many more.



Image Via


The fifty year gap Dr. Meehan is talking about may therefore reportedly be because the monks sought a safer home across the sea in a place called Kells, in the heart of Ireland in order to finish what they started, and there it survives today, only a few hours drive from where it was created.


See more about the Book of Kells here.


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