minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the tag “Lindisfarne Gospels”

June and Kells

I decided to try a few designs from the Book of Kells in June. I ended up looking through several old manuscripts that fall into the Insular style of art. These include the Lindisfarne Gospels, Book of Durrow, Cathach of St. Columba, and of course the famous Book of Kells. So my poor attempts at knot work fill the pages here. Will need to work on these for better consistency and in future attempts to make them smaller and more fluid.

The “J” majuscule was a copy of one found in the Book of Kells as well as the peacock on the second page. Keeping with the style of insular illumination I didn’t add any gold foil to the pages in June. Insular illumination draws from the complex designs and imagery blended with the bright and carried colors. Yellow probably being used the most, other colors include purple, red, blue and greens. Animals and people also find their way into many of the designs in these books. If you ever have a chance to look at the art from Kells or Lindisfarne, you will see many times that even the knot work is a construct of animal shapes that have been morphed into the knot work. Truly amazing art.

I am most happy with the peacock on this page. I spent a lot of time trying to get the

right right feel on this and in the end it is the main attraction for June. Looking forward to doing more of these Celtic style designs in my book of hours and with any luck my knots will get better. …

The Evangelical Symbols

The Evangelical Symbols, Book of Kells 8th-9th century

Maybe you’ve seen them before; in christian art, on the walls of a church, on the cover of the Evangelion/Lectionary or Gospel book used in the Liturgy. The Man, the Lion, the Ox and the Eagle. Four symbols that have been associated with the writers of the Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Often they will appear in relation to the Evangelists, behind or below though they also appear alone like the example from the Book of Kells above.

From the Gospel of Henry the Lion 12th century.

The history of these symbols in christian symbology dates back to St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c.120-202 AD) when he ties in the four accepted Gospels with the Four Living Creatures found in the Hebrew Scriptures in the first chapter of Ezekiel. Irenaeus wasn’t alone; Jerome, Augustine and Pseudo-Athanasius also used the symbols, but associated the different animals to different Gospels. Jerome’s interpretation is the one that stuck:

  • The Man – St. Matthew – Ties in genealogy with the humanity and incarnation of Christ.
  • The Lion – St. Mark – Shows Christ as King, and ties in the belief that lions slept with open eyes to the resurrection.
  • The Ox – St. Luke – Gospel starts with Zacharias the priest and this ties to Christ Priest and as sacrifice.
  • The Eagle – St. John – Christ is the Logos. Focus is on the divinity of Jesus. The Eagle is a creature of the sky.

These are general ideas about the symbology of the animals and more can be found about them on the web or in a good history book. My first time seeing one of them was on the cover of an album from the group Iona, called The Book of Kells. An excellent album; progressive and spiritual, I found the cover picture of the Eagle fascinating. Later, after finding out about the Evangelical Symbols, I began to notice them in the church buildings I ventured into. Not that they are in every church, but in many of the older church buildings, especially those that have an abundance of art you may see them, on the roof or surrounding the altar.

St. Mark with the Evangelical Symbols surrounding. From the Lindisfarne Gospels. 7th-8th Century.

Ceiling fresco of the Sacresty in St. Miniato al Monte, Florence

Chi Rho

Chi Rho in Lullingstone, Kent.

The Chi Rho, or Chi Rho Iota, is an ancient symbol for Christ and is found throughout church history in a variety of ways. The earliest use appears to be in the catacombs, along with several other symbols such as the ichthus (fish) and the anchor. The Chi Rho is formed by using the first two letters for Christ in the Greek language ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, which phonetically would sound like KRISTOS. Often an alpha and omega will appear, as in the picture above from Lullingstone villa (4th century).

The symbol is also called a Labarum by the Romans and is the symbol that legend says the Emporer Constantine saw in a dream in the year 312, which would lead him to victory. The Labarum is a military standard and can be found on roman shields and on poles that would hold banners or flags.

ChiRho page from the Book of Kells

Both of the above used the Chi Rho as a monogram, affixing the letters in the same space to form a single symbol, and while this style of the symbol is still in use today it isn’t the only way in which the XP (Chi Rho symbol) was depicted.  In the famous Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells, the xp is found as well.

The Book of Kells dates to the 9th century Ireland. It is also known as the Book of Columba, who was a monk in the 6th century that taught the Gospel in Ireland and Scotland. The Lindisfarne Gospels dates to the 8th century England and are attributed to a monk named Eadfrith who was bishop of Lindisfarne. Both are famous illuminated manuscripts and  examples of how Sacred Scripture was preserved through the early middle ages.

The book of Kells as well as Lindisfarne are an Evangeliary, or Gospel Book. This is the book where the gospel is read from at mass. It’s cover has the four evangelical symbols for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and is usually made of gold, though both books lost their covers during Viking raids, taking the gold and leaving the real treasure. Both were written in Latin, which was the language of the people, and there is a translation of the Lindisfarne that has Old English which comes from the 10th century.

As can be seen on the ChiRho pages in both examples, the Book of Kells above and the Lindisfarne Gospels below, there is an entire page dedicated to the ChiRho, XP as well as the I (Iota), and are not found to be in the monogram style. They both are placed right at the beginning of Matthew 1:18 where in the genealogy listed, Christ enters and (the word is made flesh). In the Book of Kells the ChiRho page reads: XPI autem generatio.. which would translate as “Now the generation of Christ was in this wise…” and continues, “When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”

ChiRho page from the Lindisfarne Gospels

If you get a chance, find a detailed pic of both of these and look at the amazing detail, the figures of people, animals, and the beautiful celtic style knots.

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