A LEADING Midlands based business man has called for the development of an interpretative centre close to the site of the ancient monastery and holy well in Durrow.
Christy Maye also believes that the Book of Durrow should be returned to the area and exhibited in any such centre when completed.
The business man, who developed the multi-million Bridge House Hotel complex and owns the Greville Arms Hotel in Mullingar, outlined his vision in an article published in this year’s edition of the Lions Club Tullamore Annual.
Mr Maye, who has a keen interest in historical and archaeological topics related to Ireland’s golden age of monasticism, said he reached his conclusion following a visit to Trinity College to view the Book of Durrow only to discover it was on loan to the British Museum.
He writes: “On a recent visit to Dublin I noticed that the Book of Durrow was not on display nor was there any information on the book available. This led me to ponder whether the time has come to consider the building of a major interpretative centre in Durrow to highlight the rich Celtic heritage of the area. It may also be the opportune time to return one of the great treasures of Ireland’s golden age to its rightful home where it had rested for 800 years.”
Mr Maye’s article in the Tullamore Annual continues: “One of the greatest earliest surviving fully decorated Insular Gospel books in the world, the Book of Durrow is believed to date from around 650 A.D. It was regarded as ‘the chief treasure of the Western World’ and is a world renowned manuscript.”
“The Book of Durrow contains 248 vellum folios with the pages filled with elaborate ornamentation such as interlaced patterns including spirals and curvilinear Celtic designs. It is calculated that the hides of 185 calves were used in the making of the book indicating how costly and ambitious the project was. Only Durrow with its supply of noble, rich, learned scholars had the capacity and the resources to produced this masterpiece.”
Mr Maye writes: “The Book remained in Durrow for some 800 years and it is said that this great illuminated manuscripts was eventually discovered in the hands of a dairy farmer who used to dip it in a water trough o ward off bovine ailments before it was relocated to safer keeping.”
The Book of Durrow is currently on loan to the British Library for a landmark international exhibition of early medieval manuscripts and other objects
The British Library exhibition ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War’ explores the riches of art, culture and ideas covering the six centuries of the Anglo-Saxon period up to the Norman Conquest. The Book of Durrow’s decoration contains parallels with Anglo-Saxon metalwork.
One of Ireland’s most important manuscripts and a precursor to the Book of Kells, the manuscript represents a fusion of artistic traditions that reveal a pivotal moment in the development of early Christian art in north-western Europe. Its distinctive and influential style is variously referred to as ‘Celtic’, ‘Hiberno-Saxon ‘or ‘Insular’ art. This insular art style and its exquisite ornamentation inspired later masterpieces including the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels.
The 1,300-year old book has joined major manuscripts from around the world in the exhibition, such as the Codex Amiatinus, the oldest complete manuscript of the Bible in Latin, produced in the early 8th century, on loan from the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence. The exhibition will also include the Vercelli Book, one of the ‘four poetic codices’ of Old English poetry, on loan from Vercelli in Italy; the Domesday Book the detailed survey of lands held by William the Conqueror from The National Archives in the UK; and the Lindisfarne Gospels which are part of the British Library’s own collections.
Trinity College Dublin has been custodian of the Book of Durrow for the nation since the 17th century. It is displayed in the Library in rotation with other precious manuscripts, such as the Book of Dimma, the Book of Mulling and the Book of Armagh.
A Columban monk illustrated the Book of Durrow and while it has been named after the Columban monastery in Durrow, Co Offaly, its exact origins are subject to much debate, it could be Durrow, Iona in Scotland or possibly even Lindisfarne in Northumbria.
The precious manuscript is particularly celebrated for its pared back aesthetic, its vibrant colours of red, yellow and green and the eclectic range of sources from which the scribe drew his inspiration.
Trinity College has analysed the inks and pigments of the manuscript using non-invasive micro-Raman spectroscopy and x-ray fluorescence techniques. The analysis has revealed that the brown-black ink is iron gall, the red comes from red lead and the green is a copper based acetate and yellow is arsenic sulphide or orpiment.
Coinciding with the British Library exhibition, the manuscript has been digitised and a new online exhibition has been developed by the Library of Trinity College Dublin showcasing the beautiful manuscript for the public, students and researchers anywhere in the world to study and learn more about it. This is the first time it has been made available in this way, with such universally accessible, high quality images.