Picture The Book of Durrow written in half-uncial, Trinity Coll., Dublin

Irish Letters  Written in Stone

The ”’Book of Durrow”’ (Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS A. 4. 5. (57)) is a 7th-century illuminated manuscript+ gospel book+ in the Insular+ style. It was probably created between 650 and 700, in either Durrow or Northumbria+ in Northern England+, where Lindisfarne+ or Durham+ would be the likely candidates, or on the island of Iona+ in the Scottish Inner Hebrides+. The subject has been intensely debated by scholars for many decades, but without any common consensus emerging. Like the Book of Kells+, if it was not always in Ireland+ it was taken there, perhaps by monks fleeing the Viking+ attacks on Britain+, and was certainly at Durrow Abbey+ by 916.

It is the oldest extant complete illuminated Insular gospel book, for example predating the Book of Kells by over a century. The text includes the Gospels+ of Matthew+, Mark+, Luke+ and John+, plus several pieces of prefatory matter and canon tables+. Its pages measure 245 by 145 mm and there are 248 vellum+ folios. It contains a large illumination programme including six extant carpet page+s, a full page miniature of the four evangelists’ symbols+, four full page miniatures, each containing a single evangelist symbol, and six pages with significant decorated initials and text. It is written in majuscule+ insular script+ (in effect the block capitals of the day), with some lacunae+.

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