The Gospels of St. Chad (in the Cathedral Library at Lichfield) and the Gospels of Lindisfarne, which are “the glory of the British Museum”, form striking examples of the influence of Celtic art. St. Chad was educated in Ireland in the school of St. Finian, where he acquired his training in book decoration. The Gospels of Lindisfarne were produced by the monks of Iona, where St. Columcille founded his great school of religion, art, and learning. This latter manuscript is second only to the Book of Kells in its glory of illuminative design, and, from its distinctive scheme of colors, the tones of which are light and bright and gay, it forms a contrast to the quieter shades and the solemn dignity of the more famous volume.
The Book of the Dun Cow, The Book of Leinster, and the other great manuscripts of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries are interesting as literature rather than as art, for they tell the history of ancient Erin and have garnered her olden legends and romantic tales. It is only the Gospels and other manuscripts of religious subjects that are illuminated. In the apparel of the ancient Irish, the number of colors marked the social rank: the king might wear seven colors, poets and learned men six; five colors were permitted in the clothes of chieftains, and thus grading down to the servant, who might wear but one. All this the scribe knew well. We can picture the humble servant of God, clad in a coarse robe of a single color, deep in his chosen labor of recording the life and teachings of his Master, and striving to endow this record with the glory of the seven colors which were rightly due to a King alone. As we gaze on his work today its beauty is instinct with life, and the patient love that gave it birth seems to cling to it still. The white magic of the artist’s holy hands has bridged the span of a thousand years.
O’Curry: Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History (Dublin, 1861); Brunn: An Enquiry into the Art of the Illuminated Manuscripts of the Middle Ages, Part I, Celtic Illuminated Manuscripts (Edinburgh, 1897); Robinson: Celtic Illuminative Art in the Gospels of Durrow, Lindisfarne, and Kells (Dublin, 1908); Westwood: The Book of Kells, a lecture given in Oxford, November, 1886 (Dublin, 1887); Gougaud: Repertoire des fac-similes des manuscripts irlandais (Paris, 1913).
By FRANCIS JOSEPH BIGGER, M.R.I.A.
The ruins of Ireland are her proudest monuments. They stand as a lasting revelation to all mankind—a distinct and definite proclamation that the Irish people, century after century, were able to raise and adorn some of the finest buildings in stone that western civilization has seen or known. It is recognized the world over that Irish art has a beauty and distinction all its own, in its own Irish setting