February 2018 | Nate Pedersen

The Book of Kells Might Be Two Separate Works

KellsFol292rIncipJohn.jpgNew research into the world's most famous medieval manuscript, the Book of Kells, has revealed a suprising new possibility: the manuscript may be two separate works, created a half century apart and later combined.

Dr. Bernard Meehan of Trinity College, Dublin, announced last week that detailed analysis of the text has uncovered evidence supporting a new hypothesis: St. John's Gospel and the first few pages of St. Mark's Gospel may have been created by an elderly scribe on Iona in the 8th century, while the rest of St. Mark's Gosepl, as well as the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew were created 50 years later in Kells.

Handwriting evidence suggests that the creator of the St. John's Gospel likely learned his craft in the middle part of the 8th century, meaning he would have been quite old by the time the Gospel was written and illuminated at the end of the 700s. The monk's handwriting abruptly ends at the conclusion of verse 26 in the 4th chapter of St. Mark. The monk may have been one of many in the monastery who died in a series of epidemics and Viking raids on the monastery in Iona that occured in short span of years between 795 and 805. By 807, the community had relocated to a safer position, rebuilding the Abbey of Kells in Ireland. It was there, surmises Meehan, that the remaining Gospels in the Book of Kells were written and illuminated several decades later.

[Image of the opening of the Gospel of St. John from The Book of Kells from Wikipedia]