The Book of Kells is the high point of a group of manuscripts in what is known as the Insular style produced from the late 6th through the early 9th centuries in monasteries in Ireland, Scotland and northern England and in continental monasteries with Irish or English foundations.
|Folio 27r from the Lindisfarne Gospels |
contains the incipit Liber generationis
of the Gospel of Matthew.
The name "Book of Kells" is derived from the Abbey of Kells in Kells, County Meath in Ireland, where it was kept for much of the medieval period. The Abbey of Kells dates back to about 800 A.D., at the time of the Viking invasions, and was founded by monks from the monastery at Iona (off the Western coast of Scotland). Iona, which had been a missionary centre for the Columban community, had been founded by St. Columba in the middle of the 6th century. When repeated Viking raids made Iona too dangerous, the majority of the community removed to Kells, which became the centre of the group of communities founded by St. Columba.
|Folio 27v contains the four evangelist |
symbols. lion, ox, eagle, and man
The manuscript was never finished. There are at least five competing theories about the manuscript's place of origin and time of completion. First, the book may have been created entirely at Iona, then brought to Kells and never finished. Second, the book may have been begun at Iona and continued at Kells, but never finished. Third, the manuscript may have been produced entirely in the scriptorium at Kells. Fourth, it may have been produced in the north of England, perhaps at Lindisfarne, then brought to Iona and from there to Kells. Finally, it may have been the product of an unknown monastery in Scotland. Although the question of the exact location of the book's production will probably never be answered conclusively, the second theory, that it was begun at Iona and finished at Kells, is currently the most widely accepted. Regardless of which theory is true, it is certain that the Book of Kells was produced by Columban monks closely associated with the community at Iona.