The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript of the Gospel book containing the four Gospels written in red, yellow, purple and black ink. The Book of Kells is considered as Ireland’s national treasure and the finest example of illuminated manuscript of medieval Europe. The Book of Kells was an elaborate and sacred work used during special occasions of the church when it was kept on the altar. As such it was not designed to serve any educational purpose of daily use and study. Now the Book of Kells is being reproduced in facsimile edition to make it accessible worldwide.
The Book of Kells was developed on the Iona island which lies between Scotland and Ireland. But it derives its name from the Abbey of Kells, situated in the Irish Midlands, where the book was kept from the 9th century till the 16th century. The original book consisted about 350 leaves each measuring 33cm by 25 cm. The book contains the four Gospels as taken from Saint Jerome’s Latin text and also includes prefaces and summaries of the text. The original cover of the book was decorated with gold and precious jewels. The Book of Kells was shifted to the library of Trinity College, Dublin in 19661 and is easily accessible to the public.
The Book of Kells was produced by Celtic monks in ca.800 A.D. The text has been taken mainly from the Vulgate with some passages drawn from the Vetus Latina which was the one of the earliest versions of the Bible. The book is regarded as the masterpiece of Western calligraphy using the unique technique of Insular illumination. The Book of Kells consists of the four Gospels in Latin text and calligraphed in a complex and elaborate script. The book is lavishly illustrated with nearly ten colors.
The Book of Kells has a sacramental purpose when it is generally kept on the high altar in the church. The book is generally used, during Mass, for reading the Gospel. Though many a times the reader would actually be reciting the gospel from his memory rather than reading from the Book of Kells. Interestingly the Book of Kells seems to have been kept at the sacristy, a place where the articles used during Mass were kept rather than at the monastic library. The way the book was composed and retained also showed the importance given to the aesthetic value of the book over its practical use.
In order to make the Book of Kells accessible to others, the concerned officials of the Trinity College allowed for the reproduction of the book. The work was undertaken in 1986 by Urs Duggelin, a Swiss publisher who was reputed to reproduce rare illuminated manuscripts. The book was photographed with the help of a unique machine and then master craftsmen and lithographers worked to reproduce a fine facsimile ( latin word meaning “Make it the same”) of the original. The initial facsimile edition of the book costed $ 18,000 and was restricted to 1,480 copies for worldwide distribution.