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The Book of Kells CD-ROM - A Review

By Matt Kelley



The Book of Kells, perhaps the finest illuminated manuscript extant, is also the most famous manuscript in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. Written on vellum (calfskin), the elaborately decorated book includes transcriptions of all four Gospels. The book contains 340 folios or 680 pages, of which all but two have some degree of decoration. It is thought that some 30 folios have been lost through the years.

The decorations in the Book of Kells contain some of the finest examples of Celtic era art, including interlaced knotwork, keys patterns, spirals, lettering, and zoomorphics.

It is believed the manuscript was completed approximately 800 AD by scribes and artists among the Columban monks living in a monastery on the island of Iona, off the rugged west coast of Scotland. Later, in response to the attacks of marauding Norseman, the abbot fled Iona, taking the manuscript to the Columban monastery at Kells in Ireland.

In the 1660's the Book of Kells was presented to Trinity College Dublin by Henry Jones, Bishop of Meath and a former vice-chancellor of the University. The Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow, also at Trinity College, and the Lindisfarne Gospels in the British Museum are considered to be among the three greatest examples of illuminated manuscript surviving from the Middle Ages.



The Book of Kells CD is the first authorized digital edition of the entire manuscript. The CD contains all 340 folios; in addition, fourteen of the most elaborately decorated sheets include a unique zoom view, which allows closer inspection of the art.

Significant additional information is presented, including video segments narrated by Olivia O'Leary and Stephen Rea. Topics include the origins of the Book's history, the design systems of the day, the scribes who created it, and the materials used. A sample page - Virgin and Child (7v) is included at the end of this review.

The CD is available in Widows and Macintosh format. A caution here; a fairly high-end machine is required, so carefully check the minimum hardware requirements prior to ordering. The standard edition of the CD is available for $25 US, plus shipping and handling.


The Review

In a word, the Book of Kells CD-ROM is magnificent! For a Kells aficionado, the CD is a dream come true. While no reproduction can match the real thing, this is a great alternative.

The images are as clear as possible given the age of the manuscript. The accompanying information, particularly the videos narrated by Olivia O'Leary and Stephen Rea, add greatly to understanding the era and context of the Book.

Perhaps the nicest aspect of the CD is the zoom feature on the 14 major sheet; it allows you to zoom in and scroll around the sheet. The only point to be unhappy about is that only 14 sheets have the zoom feature; it would be nice to have on any number of other sheets. Given that the CD-ROM is maxed out already, however, additional zoom sheets would require another disk (or two) and greater cost.

At $25 US plus shipping, the CD is a real bargain. The copy I ordered arrived in about a week, at a total cost under $30 US.

Given the relatively low cost and the high quality, I highly recommend the Book Of Kells CD-ROM, and give it two thumbs up.

- Matt Kelley

For further information or to order your copy, visit the Book of Kells CD-ROM web site at http://www.bookofkells.ie/

Below: Sample of the Virgin and Child folio (7v) from the CD.

Book of Kells CD-ROM © 2000 Trinity College Dublin. Sample from the CD-ROM used with permission of X Communications and Trinity College Dublin.