the book of kells



The Book of Kells is outstanding in many aspects. Serving as an unofficial symbol of national culture, it showcases the power of learning, spirit of artistic imagination, and achievements of Ireland’s past. The manuscript takes its name from the Abbey of Kells, which was its home for centuries. Today, it is on permanent display at Trinity College Library, Dublin; the entire manuscript can be viewed on the Library's Digital Collections Repository. Ellis Library Special Collections has three amazing colorful books that feature high resolution details, translations and analysis of most of its folios: The Book of Kells by Bernard Meehan, The Book of Kells : reproductions from the manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin / with a study of the manuscript by Françoise Henry, and The Book of Kells / described by Sir Edward Sullivan.

The Book of Kells combines full pages of ornament with the transcription of the four gospel texts. Its 680 surviving pages are inhabited with zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figures, some of which are clearly recognizable as domestic cats.

While the cats are occasionally difficult to differentiate from their relative the lion, there is no doubt of their presence on the famous Chi-Rho folio, where they are pictured with mice or rats in possession of communion hosts. This scene hints at the practical function of monastery cats, who were helping with preserving food supplies.


If you have not done so yet, I highly recommend that you watch the 2009 animated film The Secret of Kells (available on Netflix) this weekend. It tells a fictional story of the creation of the Book of Kells by an elderly monk, Aidan, and his young apprentice Brendan, who struggle to work on the manuscript in the face of Viking raids. It was directed by Tomm Moore and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2009. One of the cartoon characters is the white cat Pangur Bán, or “Fair Pangur.” Pangur means fuller (fulling is a step in woollen clothmaking which involves the cleansing of cloth), while bán translates as white or fair. Her name is taken from an Old Irish poem, written about the 9th century at or around Reichenau Abbey. It was written by an Irish monk about his cat. A paraphrase of the poem in modern Gaelic is read out during the credit roll of this animated film.

- Katya S



Built between 1712 and 1732, the Long Room at Trinity College’s Old Library holds the collection’s 200,000 oldest books. The enormous collection housed in the long room includes a rare copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the 15th-century wooden harp in the library which is the model for the emblem of Ireland. 

The distinctive and beautiful barrel ceiling was added in 1860 to allow space for more works when the existing shelves became full. Marble busts of famous philosophers and writers line the central walkway of the nearly 200-foot-long room, created by sculptor Peter Schemakers beginning in 1743.

Discover more of the historic gems held in this beautiful library at Atlas Obscura…

Important Announcement

I realize it’s a Christian source and a Christian document, but if you love Irish/Scottish art and knotwork, the University of Dublin has the entire Book of Kells online absolutely free. 

Those of you who have seen the Secret of Kells might see why this is so beautiful to me: because the book was originally meant to be seen by as many people as could see it, in order to illuminate their lives. I’m not crying, that’s just fulfillment of purpose in my eye

This made my night, hopefully some of you appreciate this as much as I do! 


The Book of Kells is a stunningly beautiful manuscript containing the Four Gospels. It is Ireland’s most precious medieval artifact, and is generally considered the finest surviving illuminated manuscript to have been produced in medieval Europe. As many as ten different colors were used in the illuminations, some of them rare and expensive dyes that had to be imported from the continent. The workmanship is so fine that some of the details can only be clearly seen with a magnifying glass.