Book of Durrow

June 28, 2014

The Durrow Gospels constitute one of the earliest masterpieces of Insular book production.  A later inscription in the volume suggests that it was based on a manuscript once owned by St Columba (c.521-597) and the monastery at Durrow was one of his foundations.  Opinion is sharply divided over where the book was made - its Irish credentials have been challenged.  However, the manuscript was certainly in Ireland by the early tenth century, when King Flann commissioned a shrine for it.  A century later, it was at Durrow itself, some fifty miles west of Dublin.  The tiny dimensions of the volume, just 9 x 5 inches, would have made it easy to transport between various locations.
The most glorious features of the Book of Durrow are its carpet-pages, all of them notable for their elaborate interlacing.  Six of the original seven survive and, as this would have been the sixth in the series, it has been suggested that there is a reference here to the sixth day of Creation.  Thus the argument goes, the stylized snakes and quadrupeds echo the arrival of the 'cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth' (Genesis 1:25).  Note the button-like cross in the centre, so often the focal point of a carpet-page design.



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