Thursday, February 27, 2014

Illuminted Manuscripts


The term “illumination” originally denoted the embellishment of the text of handwritten books with gold or, more rarely, silver, giving the impression that the page had been literally illuminated. Though various Islamic societies  practiced this art, Europe had the longest  tradition of illuminating manuscripts. 

  The art was at its height height during the middle ages.  Within scriptoria or workshops  where books were copied and hand written there was a  differentiation between those who “historiated” (i.e., illustrated texts by relevant paintings) and those who “illuminated” (i.e., supplied the decorative work that embellished initial capital letters and often spilled into margins and borders.

Among the most highly developed illuminated  text were those of the Celts. Christians encountering the Celts drew from the indigenous culture. Celtic tradition seeped into the roots of Christianity  as they  were laid down in the Islands. Literate "historic" Christian culture was superimposed onto oral "prehistoric" Celtic culture. The traditions of the two merged and complemented other in many ways one of which  was the illuminated manuscripts produced in early Christian Ireland and Britain.


Early Insular manuscripts are incredible documents of the transition from an oral to a literate culture. The highly developed visual sense of the Celts was adapted to Christian texts with stunning results that affected manuscript illumination for hundreds of years in Europe.

Top: Illuminated Manuscript Koran, The right side of an illuminated double-page frontispiece, Walters Art Museum Ms.
 Middle: From the book of Mark from the book of Kells medieval illuminated manuscript Irish Celtic knotwork
Bottom:  example of latter European Manuscript

compiled from several sources

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Book of Durrow

The Book of Durrow is a 7th-century illuminated Gospel Manuscript in the Insular art  style produced in the post Roman British Isles. It was probably created between 650 and 700. The place of creation  may have been Durrow Abbey in Ireland or a monastery in Northumbria in northern England where the monasteries at Lindsfarne or perhaps the Iona Abbey in western Scotland. The place of origin has been debated by historians for decades without a consensus. The Book of Durrow was certainly at Durrow Abbey by year 916. Today it is housed at the library at Trinity College, Dublin (MS A. 4. 5. (57)).

 It is the oldest extant complete illuminated Insular gospel book,  predating the Book of Kells by over a century. The text includes the four new testament Gospels of Matthew Mark Luke and John plus several pieces of prefatory matter and canon tables.. It contains a large illumination programme including six extant carpet pages, Introductory leafs with geometric shapes, a full page miniature of the four evangelist, four full page miniatures, each containing a single evangelist symbol, and six pages with significant decorated initials and text. It is written in majuscale  insular script,  the block capitals of the day.

 graphic: a page from the book of Durrow

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Lindisfarne Gospels

The Lindisfarne Gospels  are an illuminated manuscript produced around the year 700 in a monastery off the coast of Northumberland at Lindsfarne.  It is now on display in the British Library  in London. The manuscript is one of the finest works in the unique style of Insular art. Combining Mediterranean, Angelo Saxon and Celtic traditions

The Lindisfarne Gospels are presumed to be the work of a monk named Edafrith who became Bishop of Lindisfarne  in 698 and died in 721. It is believed they were produced to honour of St cuthbert. to commemorate the elevation of Cuthbert's relics. The Gospels are richly illustrated in the insular style and were originally encased in a fine leather binding covered with jewels and metals made by Billfirth the Anchorite in the 8th century. During the Viking raids on Lindisfarne this jewelled cover was lost and a replacement was made in 1852. The text is written in insular script, and is the best documented and most complete insular manuscript of the period.

In the 10th century an Old English translation of the Gospels was made: a word-for-word gloss inserted between the lines of the Latin text by Aldred.. This is the oldest extant translation of the Gospels into the English. Due to Viking raids the monastic community left Lindisfarne around 875, bringing with them Cuthbert’s body, relics, and books including the Lindisfarne Gospels. The Gospels may have been taken from Durham Cathedrall during the Dissolution of the monestaries ordered by Henry the 8th .The Lindisfarne Gospels are in remarkable condition and the text is complete and undamaged. However, the original binding of the manuscript was destroyed. In March 1852 a new binding was commissioned for the Lindisfarne Gospels.

 graphic: Three pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Echternach Gospels

The Echternach Gospels  were produced,  at Lindisfarne Abbey  in Northumbria around the year 690. This location was very significant for the production of Illuminated manuscripts, such as the Durham Gospels ) and the Lindisfarne gospels  The scribe of the Durham Gospels is believed to have created the Echternach Gospels as well. This manuscript, and other such codices, were highly important instructional devices used in the Early Middle Ages primarily for conversion.

The Echternach Gospels were probably taken by St Willibrod, a Northumbrian missionary, to his newly founded Echternach Abbey in Luxembourg, from which they are named. It is significant that this early Echternach manuscript should have been brought here because, with Willibrord as Abbot, the scriptoria at Echternach would then become the most influential center for Hibernia-Saxon style manuscript production in continental Europe.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Brigid in the Book of Armagh

The Book of Armagh copied in about 807 states that St Bridget (or Bride) journeyed to Mann to receive ordination at the hands of Bishop McCuill; and that she founded the Nunnery at Douglas. Below is the account:

The renown of his [St Maughold's] sanctity was so great that it was divulged of him as that the famous St Bridget, one of the three patrons of Ireland, left her native country of Ireland, then commonly called the Island of Saints, yet was she not veiled by St. Patrick, although very familiar with him, and made the shroud wherein he died, but it may be by his command that she came into the Island of Man with three virgins more in her company, all which received the white veil of virginity at the hands of the venerable bishop St. Maughold, as her own nephew Cogitosus (who lived in her time and wrote her hfe) has said, and after it seems she would not part from that house wherein so holy a man lived, and he had given her such satisfaction, and builded a monastery there for herself and the three virgins that accompanied her in this Isle of Man. And there lived, died, and was buried, and after was translated into Duno in Ireland, to be put in the same tomb where was buried St. Patrick and St. Columbus

Graphic: the ornatley designed leather case that contained the book of Armagh

living water reprint from 2009

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Book of Armagh

The Book of Armagh also known as the Canon of Patrick is a 9th-century Irish manuscript written mainly in Latin, is, in the main, a transcript of documents of a much older period than the Book which has preserved them, and these documents are of inestimable value for the early history and civilization of Ireland . It is preserved at the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. Above all, this collection is valuable because it contains the earliest documents relating to St Patrick and some of the oldest surviving specimens of Old Irish. It also contains a near complete copy of the New Testament.

The text is done in Insular script the type developed in Ireland in the 7th century (Latin: insula, "island"). This script later spread to Continental Europe under the influence of Celtic Christianity. It is associated with Insular art, the most famous examples being illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells..

The manuscript was once thought to have belonged to St. Patrick and, at least in part, to be a product of his hand. Research has determined, that the earliest part of the manuscript was the work of a scribe named Ferdomnach of Armagh (died 845 or 846). Ferdomnach wrote the first part of the book in 807 or 808, for Patrick's heir (comarba) Torbach. Two other scribes are known to have assisted him.
The first part contains important early texts relating to St. Patrick. These include two Lives of St. Patrick, one by Muirchu Maccu Machteni and one by Tírechán. Both texts were originally written in the 7th century.  The Book of Armagh also contains the earliest copy of Saint Patrick's Confessio known to exist. However, significant passages are missing.

The manuscript also includes significant portions of the New Testament, based on the Vulgate Bible. In addition there are prefaces to Paul's Epistles (most of which are by Pelagius) and the Eusebian canon tables ( the system of dividing the four Gospels used between late Antiquity and the Middle Ages). The manuscript also contains St. Jerome's letter to Damascus and closes with the Life of St. Martin of Tours by Sulpicius Severus.

 The Book of Armagh is of the greatest importance for the history of the Irish language. It is not only one of the very oldest monuments of the Old-lrish, since it is antedated only by the fragmentary glosses in the Irish manuscripts preserved on the Continent, but it is the earliest extant specimen of a continuous narrative in Irish prose.

graphic:ul  A page of text from the Book of Armagh. lr: the book of Armagh

revised and expanded from 2008 article 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Brother Lawrence (1611-1691)

The most excellent method of going to God is that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing people but purely for the love of God.

We ought not to grow tired of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.

God has infinite treasure to bestow, and we take up with a little sensible devotion which passes in a moment. Blind as we are, we hinder God and stop the current of His grace. But when He finds a soul penetrated with a lively faith, He pours into it His grace and favors plentifully.

How can we pray to Him without being with Him? How can we be with Him without thinking of Him often? And how can we think of Him but by a holy habit we should form of it?

There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Armagh is the county town of the county Armagh in northern Ireland. It is of historical importance for both Celtic Paganism  and Christianity. 

Eamhain  Mhacha (or Navan Fort), at the western edge of Armagh, is believed to have been used as an ancient pagan ritual or ceremonial site. According to Irish mythology  it was once the capital  of Ulster. It was abandoned as such during the 1st century. The site was named after the goddess Macha, and as the settlement grew on the hills nearby, it was also named after the goddess — Ard Mhacha means "Macha's height". This name was later Anglicized as Ardmagh, which eventually became Armagh.

 According to tradition, when Christianity spread to Ireland during the mid-400s, Armagh became the island's "ecclesiastical capital". St Patrick established his principal community there. Saint Patrick was said to have decreed that only those educated in Armagh could spread the gospel. According to the Annals of the four Masters  in the year 457:
"Ard Mhacha was founded by Saint Patrick, it having been granted to him by Daire, son of Finnchadh, son of Eoghan, son of Niallan. Twelve men were appointed by him for building the town. He ordered them, in the first place, to erect an archbishop's city there, and a church for monks, for nuns, and for the other orders in general, for he perceived that it would be the head and chief of the churches of Ireland in general"

In 839 and 869, the monastery  in Armagh was raided by Vikings. As with similar raids, their goal was to acquire valuables such as silver, which could often be found in churches and monasteries.
The Book of Armagh came from the monastery. It is a 9th-century Irish manuscript now held by the Library of Trinity college (ms 52). It contains some of the oldest surviving specimens of old Irish.

graphics;  top left Navan fort  bottom right  St Patrick's Cathedral Armagh

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fydor Dostoyevsky ( 1821 - 81 )

Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than flattery.”

“The soul is healed by being with children.”

But how could one live and have no story to tell?”
White Nights 

“We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.”
Crime and Punishment

 “The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
 Crime and Punishment

“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”
 The Brothers Karamazov   

 Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
 The Brothers Karamazov

Friday, February 7, 2014

Cadmon's Hymn: prelude to the Beatles

Cædmon's Hymn is a short Old English  poem originally composed by Cædmon, in honour of God the Creator. It survives in a Latin. Bede wrote about the poet and his work in the fourth book of his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum 

Bede told the story of Cædmon who was an illiterate cow-herd who miraculously was able to recite a Christian song of creation in Old English verse. This miracle happened after Cædmon left a feast when they were passing a harp around for all to sing a song. He left the hall after feeling ashamed that he could not contribute a song. Later in a dream he said a man appeared to him and asked him to sing a song. Cædmon responded that he could not sing, yet the man told him that he could and asked him to “Sing to me the beginning of all things.” Cædmon was then able to sing verses and words that he had not heard of before. Cædmon then reported his experience first to a steward then to Hild the abbess. She invited scholars to evaluate Cædmon’s gift, and he was sent home to turn more divine doctrine into song. The abbess was so impressed with the success of his gift that she encouraged him to become a monk. He learned the history of the Christian church and created more music like the story of Genesis and many biblical stories which impressed his teachers. Bede says that Cædmon in his creation of his songs wanted to turn man from love of sin to a love of good deeds. Cædmon is said to have died peacefully in his sleep after asking for the Eucharist and making sure he was at peace with his fellow men.

 Now let me praise the keeper of Heaven's kingdom,
The might of the Creator, and his thought,
The work of the Father of glory, how each of wonders
The Eternal Lord established in the beginning.
He first created for the sons of men
Heaven as a roof, the holy Creator,
Then Middle-earth the keeper of mankind,
The Eternal Lord, afterwards made,
The earth for men, the Almighty Lord.

 Cædmon's Hymn is the oldest recorded  Old English poem

adapted from Wikkipedia

graphic: Caedmons Cross At Whitby – Caedmon Was The First Poet In England

Monday, February 3, 2014

Non ( 500? -500? )

Rhigyfarch's The Life of St David,  is our main source of knowledge for both St David  and his mother Non.

Tradition holds that Non  the daughter of a local chieftain, Gynyr of Caergawch. was a Christian nun.  She was raped and that David was the  product of that rape --she was "unhappily seized and exposed to the sacrilegious violence of one of the princes of the country". Rhigyfarch recounts the tradition that the rapist was Sanctus,  a son of the King of Ceredigion. He came  upon Non- who was working in a field near Whitesands Bay while he was traveling through Dyfed in South Wales.  After conceiving, Nonita, who kept celibacy both before and afterwards, lived on bread and water alone.

 One story tells that a preacher found himself unable to preach in the presence of her unborn child, this was taken as a sign that the child would himself be a great preacher. This event is attributed as the first miracle of Saint David. 

On learning of her pregnancy a  local ruler feared the power of the child to be born and  plotted to kill it
upon birth. Non went into hiding, giving birth to David separated from those who cared for her. 

Some stories describe David’s birth occurring on a cold stormy night at St. Bride’s Bay near modern Pembrokeshire, just to the south of the modern town of Saint David’s. The place where he was born still bears the ancient chapel dedicated to Saint Non. 

According to one story, during labour, the young mother pressed her fingers so hard into a boulder beside her that she left their impression in the rock. Another account claims “ a baby boy was born in a sea of brilliant light and the boulder was split in two by a dramatic lightning strike.”

 On the place of David's birth, a church was built, and this stone is now concealed in the foundations of the altar.She brought the boy up at Henfeynyw near Aberonan and founded a convent nearby at what is now called Llanon (the village being named after her)., Non traveled to Cornwall and lived out her days in a convent.

 Non died at Dirinon Brittany, ten miles east of Brest and is buried there;her shrine can still be seen in Dirinon's parish church

graphic:TL  Chapel of Our Lady and Saint Non, Pembrokeshire, built 1934.BR St Non's Well, near the City of St. David's

A Celtic Blessing of Light

May the blessing of light be on you—
light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you
and warm your heart
till it glows like a great peat fire.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Brigid (6)

Brigid & The Oak Tree

As with many other peoples, certain trees and groves of trees were sacred to the Celts and treated with veneration. The Druids appear to have been specially concerned with the oak tree, and they are described by a Roman writer as being dressed in white while climbing the oak with golden sickles to cut mistletoe. They then sacrificed a white bull and held a feast. We may assume that a special tree was associated with many of the cult sites. The place-names and literature of the Celtic world contain much evidence about the use of single sacred trees and sacred groves as the focal points for ritual and tribal assembly. One such tree would appear to have been sacred on the hill of Kildare, and it was under this tree that Brigid built her cell and eventually developed the  Kildare  monastic community.The stump of this tree is said to have still been there in the 10th century and it was held in great veneration as many miracles were wrought through it. No one dare cut it, but might break off a bit with the fingers.