columba: kells for the perplexed

…When Ireland’s freedom and isolation were finally shattered, Iona’s monastery, like those on the mainland, was destroyed by steel and flame. Of all that passionate industry- the splendor of manuscripts lovingly illuminated, the artistry, the composing- few relics of stature remain. One of them sits now in the library of Dublin’s Trinity College. There one can gape at it under its protective glass, stare at its pages, turned one at a time and once a day. It is the superb Book of Kells, a large manuscript of the Gospels believed to date from the eighth or early ninth century, and ranks among the most beautiful manuscripts in the world. It was discovered in County Meath near the ruins of what was probably one of Saint Columba’s own early foundations.

—On first seeing the Book of Kells at the end of the twelfth century, the Welsh historian Giraldus Cambrensis exclaimed it was so exquisite that it could easily be mistaken for “the work of an angel and not of a man.” It is regarded as the finest achievement of Celtic art and considered by many to be the most beautiful book in the world, but what is the Book of Kells?—Read More:

Yet, in spite of the destruction, something more important than a few books has been salvaged from the rubble of a quirky civilization. We have the learning those early saints and scholars preserved for us, the impact of their religious fervor. And we have the menmory of their myth-encrusted lives. Forever about them glimmers “the freshness and the light of the dawn.”


(see link at end)…An unfortunate period followed, during which, owing to Columba’s protection of a refugee and his impassioned denunciation of an injustice by King Diarmaid, war broke out between the clans of Ireland, and Columba became an exile of his own accord. Filled with remorse on account of those who had been slain in the battle of Cooldrevne, and condemned by many of his own friends, he experienced a profound conversion and an irresistible call to preach to the heathen. Although there are questions regarding Columba’s real motivation, in 563, at the age of 42, he crossed the Irish Sea with 12 companions in a coracle and landed on a desert island now known as Iona (Holy Island) on Whitsun Eve. Here on this desolate rock, only three miles long and two miles wide, in the grey northern sea off the southwest corner of Mull, he began his work; and, like Lindisfarne, Iona became a centre of Christian enterprise. It was the heart of Celtic Christianity and the most potent factor in the conversion of the Picts, Scots, and Northern English.

—Folio 32 verso of the Book of Kells; Christ Enthroned.—Read More:

Columba built a monastery consisting of huts with roofs of branches set upon wooden props. It was a rough and primitive settlement. For over 30 years he slept on the hard ground with no pillow but a stone. But the work spread and soon the island was too small to contain it. From Iona numerous other settlements were founded, and Columba himself penetrated the wildest glens of Scotland and the farthest Hebrides, and established the Caledonian Church. It is reputed that he anointed King Aidan of Argyll upon the famous stone of Scone, which is now in Westminster Abbey. The Pictish King Brude and his people were also converted by Columba’s many miracles, including driving away a water “monster” from the River Ness with the Sign of the Cross. Columba is said to have built two churches at Inverness.Read More:

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