Book History, Episodes, libraries

24. The Lucky Book of Kells

 

It’s a few days early for St. Patrick’s Day, but The Book Owl just couldn’t wait to share with you the luck of the Irish…or rather, the luck of one of Ireland’s most famous books and how its story weaves together with the history of Trinity College’s Old Library (aka “The Long Room”). It’s a tale of Viking marauding, roofs collapsing…and cow banning.

Mentioned in This Episode….

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The (Rough) Transcript

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore. 

Setting the Mood

It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s windy, and you’re in a tiny boat after fleeing from your peaceful island home that’s just been invaded by one of the most feared groups of the ages. There’s no cover, and you can only hope your boat doesn’t capsize.

And worst of all, you’re in charge of making sure a precious book makes it safely to where it needs to go. A book in which one page alone would have taken weeks to produce.

No pressure or anything.

Intro

Boats? Books? Icky weather? Clearly, we’re preparing to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on the podcast.

Okay, so your St. Patty’s Day festivities may be more beer oriented than book oriented, but I figured the day that celebrates Ireland’s most famous saint, would also be the perfect day to tell you all about Ireland’s most famous library and the most famous book within that library.

And yes, with St Patricks Day still 6 days away, I’m a little early with this but that’s just the way things worked out. And hey, you can always listen to it again on the 17th.

Thank You and Sales Pitch

But before we step through the doors of Trinity College Library to get a peek at the Book of Kells, I just want to offer one quick thank you to everyone who purchased my darkly humorous paranormal mystery tale, The Undead Mr. Tenpenny, since it launched a couple weeks ago. You put a big smile on my face and gave me a nice boost in the Amazon ranking system….for a few days.

And of course, if you didn’t get your copy yet, it’s never too late to pop into that link in the show notes. Oh, and if you did get a copy and you have read it, be sure to leave a review on Bookbub, Goodreads, or wherever you bought it…thanks!

Plans Changed

I initially had planned to make this a two part celebration with one episode dedicated to Trinity College Library and another dedicated to the Book Of Kells, but there just wasn’t a whole lot of information on the library, which I found really odd. So what I’m going to do instead is blend the two histories of these two topics until they come together in a nice little bookish mesh.

Well, that’s the plan, anyway.

Oh, and one more thing before we start, I know, long intro, sorry. Over on Instagram, I’m not only celebrating all things Irish, but also coping with being unable to travel by sharing a picture from my trips to Ireland every day in March. So, if you’re on instagram be sure to follow along! 

Okay can we start this damn episode, already?

A Little Explanation

Now for those of you who don’t know, The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript. And no that doesn’t mean it comes with a nightlight. “Illuminated” in this case means decorated with drawings or dolled up with fancy capitals. These were typically religious texts and would have been created on calf vellum by scribes literally working their fingers to the bone.

And for the numbers people out there, The Book of Kells itself measures 33 cm tall by 25 cm wide, or 13 inches by 10 inches. And inside there’s currently 680 pages of illustrations that include some Christian iconography, but also curious Celtic animals and knots, and elaborate interlaced borders. Oh yeah, and there’s text too, which consists of the four gospels as well as some other religious essays. 

Research has figured out that the Book of Kells was created sometime in the late 800s to early 900s. Based on the handwriting and the style of the images has shown that the book was likely filled in by three artists and four scribes.

And that research also shows they used pigments such as red and yellow ochre, oak gall for black, and woad for purple. But they were also using lead and arsenic, so probably not a long-term career being a scribe.

But onto the history, and for that we have to go back even further to the 500s. 

St. Colmcille Hates Cows

So in 521 common era a guy is born to the royal Niall family of Ireland. A few years later, he’s grown into a bit of troublemaker so he takes a copy of the gospels. The church asks for it back, he refuses, and a big old battle ensues. Now, the Niall family didn’t gain power by being friendly and altruistic. They were warriors. As such, they won the battle and loads of people died.

The guy feels bad for so many people dying for his foolishness so he undergoes a form of self-penance and leaves Ireland. He eventually ends up on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland where he founds an abbey. And this guy becomes known as St. Colmcille, or St. Columba if you want to Anglicize things.

And for as tiny as this island is, it’s barely 3 miles long by a mile wide, it becomes a huge religious center, St. Colmcille becomes super important, and Iona becomes a site of pilgrimage as well as the burial place of 60 kings from Scotland, ireland, and Norway.

And just as a funny side note, Colmcille had some strange convictions. See, at the time, there were mied religious houses, so nuns and monks would share the same residence, and if I remember right, they might even marry. Well, Colmcille was having none of it and wouldn’t even allow the wives of the men building his monastery to stay on the island. He also banned cows. Why cows and women? Because he said wherever there are cows there are women, and wherever there are women, there is mischief. Which is true.

Of course he also banned frogs and snakes from the island, but it’s an island in northern Scotland so I’m wondering how many there were to begin with.

Anyway, back to the story. St. Colmcille dies in 597, and it’s thought the Book of Kells might have been started in honor of the 200th anniversary of his death. And it was started on Iona.

Notice I said it was started there.

The Vikings Arrive

Because right around this time there were these pesky mustachioed fellows roaming the seas, popping onto shore and raping and pillaging treasure.

The monks of Iona either got some warning the Vikings were coming, or managed a lucky escape before the Vikings got to their treasure, because they sent a handful of their brothers in a small boat with the relics of St. Colmcille and the illuminated manuscript they’d begun.

A few relics were lost, but the boat and the book eventually make it to the abbey at Kells in Ireland.

And it’s in Kells where the book is finished, and is why it’s known as the Book of Kells.

Losing It

So fast forward another couple hundred-ish years and for the first time the book is mentioned in the Annals of Ulster. It’s the 11th century and the reason its noted down is because it got stolen. Yeah, you know someone got in trouble for that one.

Why would someone steal a book? Especially in a time when so many people were illiterate? Because these illuminated manuscripts weren’t sitting around for people to thumb through. There were part of religious ceremonies and often kept in fancy cases in or near the high altar. And the Book of Kells’s case was made of gold.

That’s what the thieves were after. Which is a lucky thing, because it appears they took the case, then discarded the book, which was found (I don’t know exalt how long after) buried in the dirt with its case missing. This did do some damage to the book, including losing several pages, but for the thing to have survived at all is crazy lucky.

Quick Jump Through History

Okay big history jump again. This time to 1592 when Queen Elizabeth decides to build a university in Dublin. Then Lizzie dies, we go through a few kings, and then Oliver Cromwell goes right through the neck of Charles I. Crowell then brings his forces to Ireland. And I won’t go into all the history, but this guy had some serious anger issues.

He ends up in Kells in 1653/54, destroys most of the abbey the Book of Kells was kept in, and turns the church into a stable for his horses. Luckily, again this is a very lucky book, the church folks had gotten the Book of Kells out of there before his arrival and to the safety of Dublin Castle. And in 1661 Henry Jones, who then becomes Bishop of Meath once Crowell is taken care of and King Charles II is in power, presents the Book of Kells to Trinity College where it’s found a happy home ever since.

The Library

So in 1712, the library of Trinity College was begun. It would take 20 years before what is known as the Old Library or the Long Room would open. And it’s not because they were being careful architects that this took so long. They actually ran out of money soon into the project. In the end it ended up costing 20,000 pounds, which is about 1.4 million pounds today, or around $2million. And the library opened with 25,000 books to fill its shelves.

In 1801 Trinity College Library was made a legal deposit, which means it receives one copy of every book published in Ireland and the UK. And if that sounds familiar, The British Library, which I talked about way back in Episode 7, is also a legal deposit. 

So, this is great, right? It establishes the library really is legit. Well, the problem was the library wasn’t built for all the books that were now flooding in. See, the original library was built with a flat-ish roof and with book cases all along its length and walls. Well the weight of all those books started pushing the walls of the library outward and the ceiling by was about to collapse.

Thankfully, smarty pants came in and by 1861 had redesigned the Old Library to have an upper gallery and a weight bearing vaulted ceiling, making it look like, as some people say, a cathedral of books. On the shelves are 200,000 of the library’s oldest books, there’s also marble busts of famous authors and other literary sorts, a Celtic harp that was supposed to have belonged to Brian Boru (it didn’t), and one of the few realigning copies of the 1916 Easter Proclamation that insisted on Ireland’s independence form the UK and was read in front of the General Post Office. 

And again, for you numbers lovers, the Long Room is 65 meters long, and that’s 215 feet for the non-metric folks out there. And it’s this Long Room that you’ll likely see if you look up Trinity College Library, but the library itself is still a working library where people can go to do research and make use of the collection of texts.

On Display

It’s also right about the time the Old Library was redesigned that the Book of Kells goes on display to the public. 

And as a personal note, I have visited the Trinity Library and the Book of Kells…and unfortunately, the page it was turned to on the day I was there was almost all text and not very impressive. The manuscripts at the Chester Beatty Museum, which I talked about in episode 11, were far more ooh and ahh inspiring. 

Now, I can’t complain too much because I did get in for free (because I know people), but If I had to pay the 15 euro or whatever it is to get in, I’d have been annoyingly disappointed. However, the Long Room was even better than I expected, so I guess that balances it out a bit.

Still, if we’re ever allowed to travel again and you do get to Dublin, and you want to see gorgeous illuminated manuscripts, I’d say to try the Chester Beatty first, then do Trinity College Library if you have the time and money….unless you know people. There’s also another way to get in for free, which I also did, but it’s not exactly legal, so I won’t tell you.

Wrapping Up

I think that’s all I have for Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells. If you want to see some pages from the book and some images of the library, I’ll put a link in the show notes for Trinity College Library. They also have a couple virtual exhibitions on there that are a great way to procrastinate for a bit.

Updates

And now it’s the time for updates. The podcast is plugging along. The show is nearly a year old, which means I need to start making some decisions. The website and domain name will expire in one more year, so as 2021 progress, I’ll need to ponder over whether to keep the show running, or to turn off the mic on this little project. This show does take a long time to put together and I’m not sure what exactly I’m getting from it, other than some interesting research, so…

As for writing, I’m done with The Uncanny Raven Winston Book Two of The Cassie Black Trilogy. Hoorah! It is on pre-order and comes out on 13 April and I’ll be sending it to my review team soon to see what they think. 

And I have to say, this was such a fun book to write because much of it takes place in London, and so it was a great way to travel to one of my favorite cities during lockdown. And Book Three, The Untangled Cassie Black just needs a couple more read throughs. That one is also on pre-order and comes out 18 May, and it’s going to feel a little weird to have this trilogy done and dusted.

Outro

Okay my book loving friends, that is it. If you enjoyed the show, you can either show your support by purchasing one of my books (links in the show notes) or by simply telling one other person about the show. And with that I will hoot at you next time.

Credits

The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2021, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by Auphonic.com. Video creation by Headliner.app

Literacy

Happy World Literacy Day

Hello Book Nerds!

I know it’s not the Book Owl’s usual posting day, but I just wanted to share the excitement of World Literacy Day with you!

So what’s the day all about? Well, the fine folks over at Wikipedia have this to say…

“8 September was declared international literacy day by UNESCO on 26 October 1966 at 14th session of UNESCO’s General conference. It was celebrated for the first time in 1967. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies.”

And since I (aka “The Book Owl”) love being able to read and think reading is one of the best pastimes EVER, I wanted to celebrate by sharing a couple podcast episodes in which I cover a little bit of literacy, the importance of being a reader, and the strange historical course of inventions that help keep people reading to this very day.

The first is Episode 3 in which the Book Owl delves into that age-old question, the quandary that has stumped philosophers and scientists for centuries, the issue I’m sure has been keeping you up at night….

Do dogs know how to read?

Spoiler alert…no, they don’t, but they can listen which is why our canine buddies are regularly invited into libraries to help build better readers. How does this work? Who came up with the idea? How can you get involved? Find out in Episode 3: Is That A Dog in the Library?!!

Note: I was still getting the hang of things with Episode 3, so the sound quality isn’t the best, but it’s still worth a listen.

Then we have Episode 8: The Story of Seeing Clearly in which I take a peek at the amazing combination of historical events that turned eyeglasses from a luxury item used only by the wealthy to a household commodity (and requisite accessory for many readers…including myself).

From imprisoned Venetians to curing syphilis, the history of eyeglasses is more intriguing than it might seem at first glance (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Those show links will take you to the episode’s listening page where you’ll also find links to the show’s transcript, in case you know, you wanted to actually read on World Literacy Day!

Enjoy!!!!

Episodes, Museums

11. Chester Beatty’s Marvelous Manuscripts

A rich guy goes around buying up a bunch of stuff. That’s not exactly news, is it? Well, when the guy is Chester Beatty and his shopping expeditions ended up creating and preserving the most extensive collection of ancient papyrus, Middle Eastern illuminated manuscripts, and many other book-related treasure, it draws attention.

In this episode of the Book Owl Podcast we explore how Chester got bit by the collecting bug, how he earned his wealth, and how he thumbed his nose at the British Museum and moved his goodies to Dublin, Ireland.

 

Links mentioned in this episode…

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The Full Transcript (or Roughly So…)

Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.

Okay, so we got a little silly in the last episode, but it’s time to get back to, you know, serious business with the story behind a book-filled wonderland that Lonely Planet has called one of the best museums in Europe, and was honored with the Museum of the Year Award in 2002. And after having visited this place myself a ew years ago, I have to agree…although, a bit later I’ll explain what NOT to do when you go there.

But before we start exploring, I just want to say how much I loved all your comments from Episode 9 when we went rolling along with the Bookmobile. And this episode really did kick up some happy memories for you guys. Both Teresa and LaVelle recalled how excited they’d were to see the Bookmobile coming to their neighborhoods. And Jonny of the Jaunts & Haunts blog shared his memories of the Bookmobile, but as we chatted back and forth he also stirred up my own memories when he mentioned the little Scholastic book catalogs you’d get in class. I could spend hours with those things! Also, Tierney of Tierney Creates said our mutual love of the Bookmobile makes us fellow book geeks…an honor I will gladly accept.

Anyway, thanks so much for your comments, and keep them coming. I’ll throw the links in the show notes, but you can comment any time on the Book Owl Podcast blog, on Instagram, by email, or by responding to the newsletter that goes out with every episode and that you should really subscribe to.

Okay, let’s go check out this museum everyone’s raving about. The museum in question is the Chester Beatty and it’s located in the fine city of Dublin, Ireland. 

I’ll get into what you’ll actually see there a later in the episode, but basically this museum houses 25,000 highly artistic manuscripts, rare books, and the world’s most extensive collection of texts on papyrus. Don’t worry, not all 25,000 objects are on display, but what is on display will knock your book nerdy socks off.

Now, as I said, this place is called the Chester Beatty and everything on display is something he collected during his lifetime. But who the hell is Chester Beatty? As I said, I’ve been to the museum, and I still had no idea who he was, so researching this episode was a wonderful bit of discovery.

So Chester was born in 1875, and he was not born into wealth by any means. I mean this guy built himself up from a fairly modest background. In 1898, he graduated from the Columbia School of Mines, which does not like a terribly interesting course of study, but anyway he knew about mines and he needed to put that knowledge to use, so he headed west to Colorado…where like any college grad, he got a grunt job. And in the mining world, that meant digging and clearing rubble from tunnels.

But Chester was no slouch and within only five years he was part of the management team of the Guggenheim Exploration Company, which kind of makes it sound like he should have been going to Antarctic or something, but no, sorry still just Colorado. In this position he not only earned his normal wage, but he also got sort of a profit-sharing deal. So, by the time he was 32, our Chester was a millionaire.

So, I won’t overwhelm you with all the details of his career, but by 1908, he’s left the Guggenheim operation, he’s returned home to New York, and he’s set himself up with his own very profitable consulting business for mining engineers. What could be better? He’s doing great, right? Well, Chester’s life takes a sad turn when his wife of 12 years dies of typhoid.

It’s really too much for Chester. He can’t bear to be in the house they shared any longer, so not long after her death, he packs up the kids and moves to a house he’s bought in London’s Kensington Gardens…swanky! About a year after moving to London, Chester remarries and it really is a great match because they both turn out to be avid collectors.

See, even as a kid Chester loved to collect and he’d go to auctions and bid on rock and ore samples from mining expeditions to add to his collection. While he was in Colorado, he also started collecting stamps, Chinese snuff boxes, Japanese figurines, and most importantly for this episode, ancient documents on papyrus and Islamic manuscripts. And while his career in mining did require some travel, it was really some health troubles that helped him satisfy his pack rat nature.

Chester had some trouble with his lungs and a dry climate helped with that, so he would winter in places like Egypt, but he was also vastly rich, so on his way home, he’d pop over to Japan and Southeast Asia, you know, as you do.

Anyway, back to the thread of the story. As I said, Chester was already raking it in, but when he moved to London he joined a mining compact. During the 1920s the members of this compact took a risk on some mines in Zambia and the Congo. Well, the risk paid off and they discovered copper. The already rich Chester was now super duper rich…and using that money to travel more and add to his manuscript collection.

By now Chester is fully infected with the collecting bug, and by the 1930s he had a strong reputation as a reputable collector. He only bought the finest pieces of work. To help him out, he had agents and advisors who made sure what he was buying was authentic and from trusted sources. This network of agents and his own searches gathered illuminated copies of the Quran; manuscripts from the Mughals, the Turks, and the Persians; as well as ancient works written in Armenian, Greek, Burmese, and more.

And Chester wasn’t just snatching these things up like some crazed Scrooge McDuck swimming in his room full of gold coins. Okay, that was a bad analogy because you can’t really swim in manuscripts, but you get the idea. He wasn’t just buying these texts to say, “Haha, look what I’ve got.” He actually consulted with people on how best to preserve them and in 1934, he converted a portion of his Kensington House into a library and gallery for people to look at these amazing works which were probably from cultures that most people at the time thought backwards or uncivilized.

Oh, and I mentioned his wife was a collector too. Her passion was for antique furniture and paintings, and she actually preserved several pieces of original furnishings that once belonged to Marie Antoinette.

But back to Chester. He’s rich. He’s got lots of stuff. He’s got a stellar reputation as a collector. And he wanted to share his findings. So starting in the 1920s he worked with and shared his finds with the British Museum. And all along he’d been planning on leaving his collection, which was pretty substantial and worth a ton by this point, to the British Museum when he died.

Then, kind of a double whammy of things got on the wrong side of Chester. First up, as with most rich people, he didn’t like taxes. In the 1940s, Britain changed their tax structure in a way that Chester didn’t really like. But the thing that really pushed Chester too far was the hiring of a new director at the British Museum. This guy didn’t not agree with Chester’s involvement…involvement in his own collection, mind you. The new director questioned the quality of Chester’s collection, he insisted he would have the final say in everything, and he insisted the collection only be shown in the British Museum. 

Well, Chester didn’t like this one bit. Go figure. So, in 1950, he took his collection and his vast amounts of wealth, and moved to Dublin…partially because Ireland had a much more favorable tax structure and partially because his son was already living in Kildare County.

Unlike the British Museum, the Irish weren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Chester put his collection on display in a purpose built library/museum in a suburb of Dublin and opened it to share with the public in 1953. But that wasn’t the end of it. Chester also bequeathed his entire collection to the people of Ireland. Not too shabby a gift. And a big FU to the British Museum.

The Irish, possibly learning from the British Museum’s mistake, showed their appreciation. Chester not only was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of Ireland (this was in 1954), but when he died in 1968, he was the first private citizen to be honored with a state funeral. 

So in 2000, the original library was closed down and the collection moved into its own gallery in Dublin Castle. And I have to say, if you’re ever allowed to travel again and you’re in Dublin, get yourself to this exhibit. First up, it’s free which means you’ll have money for a pint of Guiness. Second, it’s incredible.

It’s been described as one of the best collections of Western, Islamic, and Southeast Asian artifacts. And while there are a lot of religious texts on display, the religion is not what’s emphasized, it’s the art and the calligraphy and the beauty of the texts themselves. 

There’s two main exhibits, Arts of the Book and Sacred Traditions, and you might also catch a rotating exhibit, but what you’ll see includes Greek papyrus from the third century, Japanese scrolls that seem to go on forever, Biblical texts in various languages, illustrated texts from the Middle East and Moghul India on religion, medicine, and astronomy, A full collection of Ancient Egyptian Love Songs, and yes, Chester’s snuff boxes from his Colorado collecting days.

Now, here’s where we get to the warning, one thing you must not do if you ever do get a chance to go: Don’t make my mistake and forget your glasses. I could see well enough to enjoy the art of the illustrations, but I could not read a damn thing on any of the display information thingies. 

Anyway, like I said, it’s free and you shouldn’t miss it, but since most of us can’t get to Dublin right now, you can satisfy your curiosity by taking a virtual tour of the collection on the museum’s website, which is really a stellar site and you can read it in Gaelic if you’re so inclined. And I recommend cracking open a Guiness as you spend some time on the virtual tour, you know, just to add to the experience.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got for Chester and his fabulous collection. I’ll have the links in the show notes for everything so you can check out the museum and take that virtual tour, but right now, it’s time for quick update.

And I will make this quick because we’ve already gone on a fair bit of time. The big news is I have mostly finished Book Two of my Cassie Black trilogy. Hoorah! I was really scared heading into this draft because there was a lot of missing stuff that needed filled in, but I squeezed my brain hard enough and the words eventually popped out. In other news, I’ve been having a big think and taking in some good advice and I’m rethinking my entire approach to writing, including scaling back on some things, pushing harder on others, and honestly, I’m feeling really excited about putting it all into place, even if it is going to take a bit of a mindset shift.

Anyway, if you want more of my writing news, I’ve got a link in the show notes for that newsletter.

Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl Podcast! Thanks so much for listening, if you enjoyed this, tell a friend or leave a review, and I will hoot at you next time!

The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, Copyright 2020, All rights reserved.

Theme Music “Monkeys Spinning Monkeys” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

Audio processing by Auphonic.com