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November 14, 2022

Book of Kells

Every year half a million visitors flock to Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, to see one very special Bible manuscript . . . the Book of Kells. Among the 680 gorgeously decorated pages of the Book of Kells is the Chi Rho page. Named after the two large Greek letters that cover the page, it is counted among the most beautiful works of art from medieval times. Chi and Rho are the first two letters of “Christos,” the Greek word for Christ. These letters are surrounded by a stunning variety of shapes and colors. Some are other forms, like foliage, fish, animals, imaginary monsters, and angels. Others are Celtic designs, including knots, interlaced curved bands, and trumpet patterns. The Book of Kells contains the four Gospels in Latin. It was likely produced around AD 800 in a monastery on the western Scottish island of Iona, though this location is disputed. When Vikings raided the island in 806, killing dozens, the monks fled to the monastery at Kells in Ireland. They presumably took the manuscript with them. It’s astonishing that monks living in relative isolation were able to prepare a manuscript now known worldwide for its incomparably lavish decorations. Among the elaborate colors are blue (made from indigo), red (from lead), copper green, and yellow arsenic. The Book of Kells has aptly been described in the Annals of Ulster as "the chief treasure of the Western world."

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