The Old Library and the Book of Kells

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The Old Library and the Book of Kells

Home to Ireland's largest collection of books and manuscripts, the Old Library's principal treasure is the Book of Kells, generally considered to be the most striking manuscript ever produced in the Anglo-Saxon world and one of the great masterpieces of Early Christian art. The book, which dates to the 9th century, was re-bound in four volumes in 1953, two of which are usually displayed at a time, so you typically see no more than four original pages. However, such is the incredible workmanship of this illuminated version of the Gospels that one folio alone is worth the entirety of many other painted manuscripts. The most famous page shows the "XPI" monogram (symbol of Christ), but if this page is not on display, you can still see a replica of it, and many of the other lavishly illustrated pages, in the library's "Turning Darkness into Light" exhibition—dedicated to the history, artistry, and conservation of the book—through which you must pass to see the originals.

Because of the fame and beauty of the Book of Kells, it's all too easy to overlook the other treasures in the library. Highlights include the spectacular Long Room—the narrow main room of the library and home to approximately 200,000 of the 3 million volumes in Trinity's collection as well as one of the remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic; a grand series of marble busts, of which the most famous is Roubiliac's depiction of Jonathan Swift; the carved Royal Arms of Queen Elizabeth I—the only surviving relic of the original college buildings; a beautiful early Irish harp; the Book of Armagh, a 9th-century copy of the New Testament that also contains St. Patrick's Confession; and the legendary Book of Durrow, a 7th-century Gospel book from County Offaly. You may have to wait in line to enter the library if you don't get here early in the day.


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