Book of Kells Workshop on April 23rd

A Splendid Opportunity to Learn About the Book of Kells, Masterpiece of the Irish Golden Age
(300-1000 AD)

By Dr. Sharonah Fredrick, Assistant Director, ACMRS

On April 23rd, the triple day of the passing of England’s William Shakespeare, Spain’s Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra, and Peru’s El Inca Garcilaso, shining lights of the Early Modern period in literature and philosophy, we will celebrate the continuity of the written, and illuminated word, at the Irish Cultural Center of Phoenix. From 1:00-4:00pm, a special workshop involving the staff of both the Phoenix Irish Cultural Center and ACMRS will focus on the immense value, and the fascinating background behind, this magnificent work of the written word and the art of illumination. RSVPs are necessary for this event, as places are limited, please click here or more information, and to RSVP.

Eventbrite - Kells and Irish Literature: Working the Dream-Space

Many are the questions surrounding the Book of Kells and its significance. Likewise, many are the theories that require solid analysis in order to clarify the complex history of this book. Written in a time when this sacred object of literary tradition was considered a powerful talisman, in and of itself, Kells, which shows a strong affinity with Anglo-Saxon manuscripts from the same era, evoked the highest reverence. It contained the four gospels, and so was viewed as not merely a transcription of Holy Writ, but was holy in and of itself. Demonstrating influence from Syrian Christian and Egyptian Coptic sources, the illuminations of Kells demonstrate not only the erudition of the Irish monks of Europe’s so-called "Dark Ages", but their overseas and overland odysseys. Memories of Irish monks still survive to this day in the Armenian Church of St. James in Jerusalem’s Old Quarter, where Celtic influence is evident on several decorated crosses that adorn the Church’s courtyard. How did Irish influence come to form the corner stone of so much ecclesiastical learning at a time that has been wrongly described by 19th century historians as a “sterile period” in learning and intellectual development? Our concept of isolated populations in Europe and Asia during the Middle Ages is as absurd as now-obsolete concepts of isolated Native American societies in the period prior to 1492. Ancient trade routes in the Americas brought chocolate and macaw feathers from Mayan Central America as far north as New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon at least as early as the 12th century. Similarly, Irish scholars traversed the Mediterranean, and some of this mutual cultural influence is evidenced in the extraordinary and unusual illuminations that delight the eye in the Long Room of the Library of Trinity College, in Dublin.

The Book of Kells has been sheltered in Trinity College since the mid-17th century. It escaped the upheavals of English-Irish relations, which entered their bloodiest period with the rise of Britain’s Stuart dynasty. Ironically, the most notable damage was wrought by the anti-monarchist, Oliver Cromwell, whose hard-line policy on Ireland rendered him identical to the Stuart kings that he despised. In contrast, outstanding Anglo-Irish intellectuals such as Jonathan Swift lamented this state of affairs, calling for a more open-minded attitude that valued English and Irish learning equally The importance of Kells’ rescue, and its place in the intellectual history of Ireland and the British isles, is one of many themes that will be explored in our April 23rd workshop at the ICC. England’s Queen Elizabeth II made a point of visiting Dublin’s Trinity College on her 2011 visit to Ireland, examining the Book of Kells with great interest. On April 23rd, ACMRS and the ICC will continue this intriguing branch of intellectual inquiry into the history of the book, with Elizabeth’s enthusiasm.