The Book of Kells also known as the Book of Columba is one of many Gospel manuscripts produced by Celtic monks from the late sixth century to the early ninth century in the monasteries in Scotland, northern England, and Ireland. Written in latin the Book of Kells represents the high point in the production of these artistic manuscripts.
Among other surviving examples of this Biblical style are the Cathach of St. Columba, the Book of Durrow, the Durham Gospels, Lindisfarne Gospels, and the Macregal Gospels.
The name for the Book of Kells come from the Abbey of Kells in Kells, County Meath in Ireland where it was kept between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries. It remained there when the abbey was dissolved in the twelfth century and turned in to a parish church. In 1654, the book was moved to Dublin for safekeeping. Eventually it was presented to Trinity College Dublin where it still rests. The book has been re-bound a number of times and exists today in four volumes after a re-binding in 1953.
The place, or places, where the Book of Kells was created is not known. Traditionally, it is thought the book was begun in the time of St. Columba in the sixth century. Among the theories of its creation ,it was begun in Scotland, possibly at the Monastery of Iona, and then brought to Kells Abbey when the monks of Iona moved to Kells to escape Viking raids at Iona.
The book contains the complete texts of three of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Gospel of John ends with John 17:13. The whereabouts of the missing pages of John a is not known. These may have been lost when the book was stolen in the eleventh century. The text is not marked by chapters. Whether this is because the manuscript was not completed is also not known.
The text of the book written in Insular Script is accompanied by full pages of detailed and ornate celtic artwork, in a varied mix of color. No gold or silver leaf was used. Each page is covered with illustrations, and the opening words of each Gospel are decorated lavishly, often to the extent that the text is almost illegible.
The book was most probably produced for liturgical use and not as an instructional volume.
graphic: page from the Book of Kells