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 

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