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Animals and Creatures in The Book of Kells

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Dee Mc

on 4 June 2014

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Transcript of Animals and Creatures in The Book of Kells

Animals & Creatures
The Book of Kells

Monks & Manuscripts
As well as worship and prayer, each monk had a role within the monastery.
Some monks studied, some farmed, some cooked...
...some wove cloth, some did missionary work and others made beautiful works of art…
In special work rooms or scriptoria,
many monks spent their whole lives
copying and decorating manuscripts.
…some very skilled monks
made illuminated manuscripts like
the Book of Kells.
Scribes were trained in the art of calligraphy.
Animals were not just
used to make the vellum (calf skin) pages of the
Book of Kells...
…they fill its folios!
As well as
the complex knotwork and spiral designs
in the Book of Kells...
...animals are used to decorate the writing and represent different ideas and stories from the Bible.
Animals found in the Book of Kells include…
Some drawings in the Book of Kells were of creatures
that the monks would have seen in their daily lives.
...these look
more natural because
the monks could
draw from life!
The more exotic animals would either have been drawn from the scribes’ imagination...
...or inspired by other artists from other countries...
...these look more fanciful because they were imagined or copied.
Why did the scribes use symbols?
Paintings of animals are used as symbols to mean different things in the Book of Kells.
We may never know what some of these animal symbols mean...
...but we do know that some of the animals in the Book of Kells were old Celtic symbols that people were familiar with before Christianity arrived in Ireland.
...birds, calves, cats, dogs, eagles, fish...
...goats, hares, horses, lions, lizards, mice...
...moths, otters, peacocks, serpents, stags and wolves!!!
in Celtic Ireland
& Britain
When the Celts- who were well known for being fierce warriors-
arrived in Britain and Ireland from Central Europe
(in around 500 BC)
they brought their language and culture.
500 BC
Artists and craftsmen were highly respected in Celtic Society.
Their art was full of patterns, spirals and animals.
The Celts were a Pagan people.

The natural world was very important
in Celtic religion and featured greatly in their art and craft.
The Celts worshipped Pagan Gods
and spirits.

The moon, the sun and the stars
were especially important.
The Celts believed there were
supernatural forces in every part
of the natural world.
They believed that every tree, bush, flower, river had a God living in it,
and they worshipped Gods in sacred places like lakes, rivers, cliffs and bushes.
The Goddess Danu
Animals were important symbols of power.
430 AD
When Christianity arrived
in Ireland & Britain
(in around 430 AD)
, missionary monks used the Latin language
and brought their religion.
At a time when most people
could not read,
monks used pictures
to tell people about
and spread Christianity.
The Arrest of Christ
The Bull was a symbol
of power and wealth
for the Celts.
Christians used the Calf or the Ox
to symbolise Luke, the Evangelist
The Salmon of Knowledge was an important story in Irish mythology
For Christians, the fish
is one of
the symbols of Jesus
Animal Symbols –
The Evangelists
The Book of Kells is made up of
the four Gospels in the Bible-
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The four authors of the Gospels
(The Evangelists)
were each known by a symbol.
The symbols
of the four Evangelists
are found throughout
the Book of Kells….
– the winged man/angel
stands for Jesus’ birth
- the lion stands
for Jesus’ resurrection
-the calf or ox
stands for
Jesus’ sacrifice
-the eagle
stands for
Jesus’ ascension
to Heaven
Animal Symbols
- Jesus

Jesus is represented by different animals in the Book of Kells, including...
A fish
A lion
A peacock
Today, the snake is usually used as a symbol of evil,
but when the Book of Kells was made snakes were
seen as wise.
(Ravens are important symbols in Celtic mythology and in many other cultures too.)
The shedding of a snake’s skin
was a symbol of rebirth.
The Chi-Rho page
is a full page of illustrations
which celebrates
the birth and life
of Jesus.
Lots of tiny details
and animals are hidden
in the decorated page:
…cats, mice, moths,
...even an otter with
a fish in his mouth!
The Chi-Rho Page contains
animals from the sky
right down to the sea!
Creatures of the air- moths
Creatures of the earth
- cats & mice
Creatures of the water
- black otter & fish
Animals as punctuation!
Many of the illustrations
show the monks’ sense of humour!
When a word could not be fitted in
at the end of a line, scribes usually
wrote a hyphen -
…but in the Book of Kells,
animals are used instead of hyphens!

Scribes drew animals either bringing the last few letters down below or up above the word…
Animals surrounded by
red dots

can be found propping up missed out
letters in the Book of Kells.

These mark
This was very unusual
and is another thing that makes
the Book of Kells special.
All photographs from the Book of Kells
© By kind permission of The Board of Trinity College Dublin
Full transcript