1) Medieval Scriptorium
-Scriptorium- is Latin for “place of writing”. Most scriptoriums were located in monasteries and monks would meticulously hand copy borrowed texts (called exemplars).
-Scribes- were monks that hand copied the words of the manuscripts.
-Illuminators- were artists who painted or “illuminated” and brought to light the story of the text. Books that were produced were usually copies of the Bible or other religious texts.
Parchment created from stretched sheep, goat or calfskin was written on with goose quill pens. The ink was usually made from a combination of ferrous sulphate and tannic acid. In some books, gold leaf and even gemstones were crushed and used to add beauty to the page.
-An interesting contrast of cultures between modern times and medieval times is that the centers of education were focused mainly in the monasteries with the clergy. While today universities have become a dominant force in education, back then, if you wanted to learn you would go to the monasteries that were often times in remote locations away from civilization.
The Rule of St. Benedict provided a list of expectations of the monks by condemning “idleness” and commanded them to devote most of their time to studying, reading and hand copying sacred texts. This task was highly respected and the monks regarded their labor as carrying on the Word of God. These handwritten copies were eventually used in public worship. Their hard labor paid off and the amazing detail that the illuminators filled the pages with made the story of the Gospel more easily understandable to people who could not read.
However, some scribes grew extremely tired from their efforts:
“Three fingers do the work, but the whole body aches.”
“As the sea-tossed and weary sailor longs for the sight of land, so this scribe longs for the end of this book!”
The Book of Kells is one of the most intricate and beautiful books of the Medieval Christian Era. It includes the 4 Gospels of the Bible written in ancient Latin and Vulgate. The pages are handwritten and painted on vellum (stretched calfskin) in insular majuscule text.
2) Book of Kells, pg. 180, example of insular majuscule text:
-The Book of Kells has pages of beautiful lettering, elaborate borders and amazing illustrations that highlight major events in the Gospels. It is uncertain where exactly the Book of Kells was created but its birthplace is commonly referred to as an island off Scotland’s western coast, Iona, which was first founded by St. Colum Cille.
-After a raid of Vikings created chaos in the community of Iona and 68 people were left dead, the monks of Columban retreated to a new location, Kells, County Meath where they settled in a new monastery.
-800 is the estimated year that the book of Kells was written although the exact year is unknown. It could have been written earlier in Iona. There is debate to whether it was written entirely in Iona or Kells, or it could have been written in both locations.
3) Book of Kells, Chi Rho, pg. 87:
-On pg. 67 the text reads:
“Christi autem generatio” Latin for “The birth of Christ”
The name “Christ” is handwritten with the monogram “Chi Rho”.
4) The Book of Kells, The Four Evangelists pg. 54:
-Pg. 54 illustrates the prophecies from Ezekiel and St. John’s Revelations that talk about the 4 winged creatures. They became a symbol of the four Evangelists and Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This symbolism took place around the 2nd century.
4th century- St. Gregory even identified the creatures of Ezekiel as the periods of Christ’s life:
Man= Christ was born as a man
Calf= He was sacrificed on the cross like a calf
Lion= He had victory over death in his resurrection and was like a lion
Eagle= He became like an eagle when he ascended to heaven
Here are some drawing and marker studies I did of the Book of Kells:
-St. Matthew (pg. 54)
-(pg. 180 excerpt of text)
The book of Kells has endured many hardships:
-At one point it had its cover stolen that was decorated in gemstones and gold. The book itself was buried and found 2 months and twenty days later, but the cover remained missing.
-In 1661 the Bishop of Meath, Henry Jones, gave the book to the Library of Trinity College, University Dublin.
-In 1821 a bookbinder decided to cut off about a half inch of the outer margins.
-1953 the book was rebound by a bookbinder named Roger Powell who divided and bound the document into four volumes, one for each Gospel.
-To this day the Book of Kells can be seen on display at the Library of Trinity College, University Dublin.