The E-book of Kells — Christ Enthroned – Rick Steves’ Journey Weblog

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“Christ Enthroned,” from the Book of Kells.

For me, one of many nice joys of journey is having in-person encounters with nice artwork — which I’ve collected in a guide known as Europe’s High 100 Masterpieces. Right here’s certainly one of my favorites:

Jesus Christ sits on a throne and solemnly cradles one thing essential — a guide, the holy phrase of God. He has a lush head of curly flaxen hair and a considerate expression. Seated underneath an arch, he’s surrounded by a labyrinth of colourful, intricately woven designs.

This illustration from an previous Bible tells the story of Jesus. This explicit drawing got here proper on the level within the story (Matthew 1:18) the place this heavenly Jesus was about to be born as a humble mortal on earth.

It’s only one web page of the exceptional 1,200-year-old gospels generally known as the E-book of Kells. Maybe the best piece of artwork from the so-called Darkish Ages, this guide is a uncommon artifact from that troubled time.

It’s the yr 800. The Roman empire has crumbled, leaving Europe in chaos. Vikings have been raping and pillaging. The Christian religion — formally embraced over the past years of the empire — was now faltering, as Europe was reverting to its pagan and illiterate methods. Amid the turmoil, on the distant fringes of Europe, lived a band of scholarly Irish monks devoted to tending the embers of civilization.

These monks toiled to protect the phrase of God within the E-book of Kells. They slaughtered 185 calves and dried the skins to make 680 cream-colored pages known as vellum. Then the tonsured monks picked up their swan-quill pens and went to work. They meticulously wrote out the phrases in Latin, ornamented the letters with elaborate curlicues, and interspersed the textual content with full-page illustrations — creating this “illuminated” manuscript. The venture was interrupted in 806 when Vikings savagely pillaged the monastery and killed 68 monks. However the survivors fled to the Abbey of Kells (close to Dublin) and completed their treasured Bible.

Christ Enthroned is only one web page — 1/680th — of this wondrous guide. On nearer inspection, the web page’s unbelievable detail-work comes alive. To both aspect of Christ are two mysterious males holding robes, and two grotesque-looking angels, with their wings folded in entrance. Flanking Christ’s head are peacocks (symbols of Christ’s resurrection), with their ft tangled in vines (symbols of his Israelite roots). Admittedly, Christ is just not terribly real looking: He poses stiffly, like a Byzantine icon, with almond eyes, weirdly positioned ears, and E.T. fingers.

The true magnificence lies within the intricate designs. It’s a jungle of spirals, swirls, and intertwined snakes — sure, these are snakes, with their little heads rising right here and there. The monks combined Christian symbols (the cross, peacock, vines) with pagan Celtic motifs of the world round them (circles, spirals, and interwoven patterns). It’s all finished in vivid colours — blue, purple, crimson, inexperienced, yellow, and black — meticulously etched with a quill pen. Of the guide’s 680 pages, solely two haven’t any ornament.

As Christianity regained its footing in Europe, monasteries in all places started creating related monk-uscripts — although few as luxurious because the E-book of Kells. In 1455, Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press, books grew to become mass-produced…and 1000’s of monks have been free of being the scribes of civilization.


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