The Book of Kells is simply stunningly beautiful. It dates from around the year 800 and comprises four gospels of the Bible. Hand-written on vellum it survived the vicissitudes of over a millennium of tough times to make it to today as a lasting tribute to the amazing skills and imagination of the obscure monks who created it. If you like books at any level you can’t help but be inspired by such a beautiful work.
The level of detail in the work is completely amazing. There continues to be debate about how the monks could possibly have created decorations with up to thirty lines to a centimetre – the sort of detail you see on a banknote engraving today. Did they have a primitive magnifying glass before they were otherwise known? Did they train their eyes to go cross-eyed and so provide up to thirty-times magnification? This last theory seems to have currency, although no matter how many times I read about it I fail to see how it works – perhaps a failing of having only one eye myself.
The Book is kept in Trinity College Library which is worth a visit in itself. The Long Room contains thousands of ancient volumes in a long, vaulted and wood-paneled room. The centre of the room is lined with display cases of particularly interested manuscripts and curios from times past – from skeletal remains to Yeats’ notes. But even without the curios, the Long Room is just great. With the sort of mezzanine level which all great libraries should have, the display of thousands of leather-bound books makes my hands itch with the unfulfilled desire to investigate them.
I can only love a country that has a book as its greatest national treasure, even if it has a harp on its coins and beer. And the Long Room? It has the original harp too.