Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Book Of Kells, 'Chi-Rho'

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript, sometimes known as the Book of Columba, held in the Trinity College Library, Dublin. Made in 800AD by the monks belonging to the Columban movement, it is probably Ireland's greatest national treasure. The illumination above shows the symbol for the word Christ: Chi and Rho are two letters from the Greek alphabet, Chi gives the Ch sound and is written as an X. Rho is R and is written in a P shape. The letter Iota which is I also appears. (ref: Tom Lubbock, The Independent 16/5/08).
However, the Chi-Rho monogram originated in pre-Christian Pagan papyri where scholars used it as a sign to mark prophetic passages with Chi-Rho, standing for the Greek chreston, meaning 'auspicious'. With the spread of Christianity it became an abbreviation for the word Christ (ref: The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy)

It has been described by some as the most beautiful book in the world. For many years it was believed to have been written by angels. This belief was asserted by Welsh historian Giraldus Cambrensis in the late twelfth century. This assertion was due to the extraordinary detail that the book entails. For example, one, quarter-inch illustration was examined under extreme magnification and found to contain 158 interlacements, ten rare and expensive colors (current printing schemes only use four) and no errors. Modern draughtsmen have attempted to replicate the artwork in the Book of Kells and have abandoned the task as hopeless. (ref: Ian Hackman)

The origin of the Book of Kells is debated, but there is strong evidence that the original work began in the Iona Monastery in Scotland by the Irish under the commission of St. Columba and it is estimated that it took no less that thirty years to complete.

I have only visited Dublin once and on that occasion I wasn't able to get to Trinity College, in fact at that time I didn't know about the Book of Kells. Since then I have been to Iona and learnt about the Culdees and their links to the Druids. The Book of Kells is on my 'visit in the near future list' along with Lindisfarne and ..... probably another visit to Iona, a difficult place to get to as an island off an island (Mull) but well worth the effort.