Online course

The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Masterpiece

Discover medieval Ireland using the Book of Kells, a ninth-century manuscript featuring the four gospels of the new testament.

The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Masterpiece

Explore the history of Ireland using the remarkable Book of Kells

The Book of Kells manuscript, housed at Trinity College Dublin is world famous - it attracts almost one million visitors a year. But what can this book tell us about Irish history? And what significance is the manuscript in today’s world?

On this course you will use the Book of Kells as a window through which to explore the landscape, history, faith, theology, and politics of early medieval Ireland. You will also consider how the manuscript was made, its extended biography and how it has affected different areas of the contemporary world.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 secondsWhy do almost a million people every year come to look at a 1,200-year-old book? Welcome to this course on the Book of Kells from Trinity College Dublin. I'm Dr. Rachel Moss from the Department of History of Art and Architecture. And I'm Dr. Fáinche Ryan from the Loyola Institute of Theology at Trinity. And together with our colleagues from the library at Trinity, over the next four weeks, we'll be exploring one of Ireland's most famous manuscripts. The Book of Kells sits in a darkened room encased in protective glass in the old library here at Trinity College. It's regarded as one of the greatest cultural treasures of Ireland and described by some as the most famous manuscript in the world.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 secondsBut why is it so famous? Why do so many people travel from across the world to see it? And why is its artwork reproduced in such varied places as Irish national coinage and tattoos? There is no one answer to these questions. Indeed, a key to understanding the Book of Kells is to remember that, from its very inception, it's held different meanings for different peoples. At one level, it is a sacred scripture, part of the Christian Bible and it has been prepared or created with such care and attention that one might say its very composition was an act of devotion.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 secondsAt another level, it is an artistic masterpiece, the intricacies of which lead the mind and the eyes along pathways of imagination. The Book of Kells is to Dublin what the Mona Lisa is to Paris and the Sistine Chapel ceiling is to Rome. You haven't been to Ireland unless you've seen the Book of Kells. For Irish people, it represents a sense of pride, a tangible link to a positive time in Ireland's past, reflected through its unique art. It is truly a symbol of Irishness. Over the next four weeks of this course, we'll be exploring the multiple facets of the Book of Kells. It's not our intention to provide definitive answers to the many questions that surround it.

Skip to 2 minutes and 22 secondsRather, we'll be exploring the manuscript through various perspectives and encouraging participants to think for themselves about the meanings that the manuscript holds.

What topics will you cover?

  • Where and how the manuscript was made
  • The social context from which the manuscript emerged, including early medieval faith and politics.
  • The artistic context of the manuscript, reflecting local and international styles.
  • The theology and interpretations of the text.
  • How and why the manuscript survived
  • The Book of Kells and contemporary culture.

When would you like to start?

  • Available now
    This course started 8 October 2018

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Explain the function and meanings of medieval Irish art
  • Understand how medieval manuscripts were made
  • Engage critically with methodologies and scholarly debates which have shaped interpretations of the period
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the distinctive features of the Irish Church in this era
  • Combine visual analysis with theological and historical appraisal regarding medieval material culture

Who is the course for?

The course is for anyone with an interest in Ireland, medieval studies, history, art, religion and/or popular culture.

Who will you learn with?

Rachel Moss

Associate Professor in the History of Art and Architecture at Trinity College Dublin

Fáinche Ryan

Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of the Loyola Institute, Trinity College Dublin.

Who developed the course?

Founded in 1592, Trinity College Dublin is Ireland’s highest ranked university. It promotes a diverse, interdisciplinary environment to nurture ground-breaking research, innovation, and creativity.

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