I love books. I love holding them in my hands; I love organising them on my bookshelves; I love losing myself in their pages on a rainy day; and most of all I love how they smell. But despite visiting Dublin on numerous occasions, I had never visited one of the most famous books, in one of the most famous libraries, in the world – The Book of Kells in the Trinity College Library.
On my last trip to the Emerald Isle, I had one mission – See The Book of Kells and the magnificent library it is housed in. We braved a long line in the pouring rain. We elbowed our way through the crowded museum. At last, we caught our first glimpse of this celebrated book. I am happy to report, it was worth the effort.
The Book of Kells
What’s so special about The Book of Kells? It’s one of the finest examples of an illuminated manuscript. These early books were handwritten by monks in beautiful calligraphy. The edges and title pages of the finest illuminated manuscripts were decorated with elaborate designs and often used gold leafing.
The Book of Kells was written by Celtic monks in around 800 AD. It is four gospels of the New Testament, written in Latin and, since the 1950s, it has been bound in four separate volumes. Two of these volumes are displayed at Trinity College at any given time. Of course, the book is carefully protected behind glass, so you can only view two pages per visit.
Many of the beautiful designs we associate with the Celts are represented in The Book of Kells – Celtic knots, mythical creatures and human forms all make up parts of the decoration. Unfortunately, photos do not do the book justice, but here are a few examples to whet your appetite. (Of course, photography is not permitted in the Trinity College Library, to protect the rare and delicate books. All of the photos here are courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Despite having to crowd around the glass case containing The Book of Kells, it was more breathtaking than I expected. The amount of detail is truly astonishing. You can almost picture a monk, hunched over the vellum, painstakingly writing each letter and adding the flourishes to the edge of the page. It is also incredible to see how well preserved this old manuscript is.
The Long Room
Exiting the small museum, containing The Book of Kells, you enter into, what to me is, a perfect slice of heaven – The Long Room of the Trinity College Library.
You smell it first; that old book smell of dust, paper and history. You look up into the two story arches, filled with books for as far as you can see. You long to climb up the beautiful wrought iron, spiral staircase and browse through the shelves. But alas, the books must be protected from the hordes tourists; even the noisiest of whom have hushed into silent reverence here.
I also longed to grab my camera and make a million photos to save the memory of this magical place. I had to carve it into my mind instead.
The Wikipedia photos don’t do this magical place justice, so I recommend a quick google image search to see this place at its best. Actually, scratch that. Go to Dublin and visit the Trinity College Library and The Book of Kells for yourself.
Direct flights to Dublin are available from Brussels International Airport via Air Lingus. You can also fly via Ryanair from Charleroi airport.
If you can’t make it to Dublin but are interested in seeing some fine examples of illuminated manuscripts, and smelling that old book smell, visit the Plantin-Moretus Printing Museum in Antwerp.
For more information on travel destinations in Belgium and abroad, be sure to sign up for our CheeseWeb Escapes Ezine. Dublin will be this month’s featured destination, so don’t miss it.
Have you visited somewhere that was even more beautiful in person than in photos? Let us know where in the comments.
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