Book of Kells

Chi-Rho Page, Book of Kells, 800 AD, Trintiry College, Dublin

The Book of Kells, known also as the Book of Columba, is an illuminated manuscript Christian Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with tables and introductory texts. It was created in a Columba monastery in either Britain or Ireland around 800 AD.

The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells combines traditional Christian iconography with ornate motifs of Hiberno-Saxon art. The existing manuscript comprises 340 folios and, since 1953, has been bound in four volumes. The leaves are on high-quality vellum; the insular script is in iron gall ink, and the colors were derived from a wide range of substances, many imported from distant locations.

The Cho-Rho page dwells almost entriely of the name of Christ, or rather on its traditional abbreviation into the “Chi-Rho” symbol. In this illumination the Chi is the dominant form, an X with uneven arms, somewhat resembling a pair of curved pliers. The Rho stands in its shelter, with its loop turned into a spiral. There is also an Iota, an I, the third letter, passing up through this spiral. All three letters are abundantly decorated, their curves drawn out into flourishes, embellished with discs and spirals, filled with dense tracery and punctuated with occasional animals and angels.

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