The Bible says God reveals himself to all men at all times through the magnificence of creation. Much can be understood about Him in this way, but in His grace He didn’t stop there. God has revealed much more to us through His prophets and others who have preserved His message for us in holy scripture. Believers have treasured the Bible as such since the earliest days of the church.
Today we are featuring a wonderful example of an early form of this devotion which is known as The Book of Kells. This treasure is the work of a group of monks off the coast of Scotland.
As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :
The result of their labor is an exuberant work of art—finely detailed, intricate, and imaginative. It evidences a sense of respect for the holiness of the labor of illuminating the Word of God, as well as an undisguised playfulness in creating the interwoven loops and curves and tangled vines and dizzying spirals. Peering out at the reader are a teeming zoological plentitude—birds, snakes, butterflies and moths, cats, dogs, and mice, otters, and many purely fantastical beasts. They share space with portraits of the four Gospel writers, tangled and twisted human figures (some likely the images of fellow monks), and angelic beings. It is high and holy art combined with a deep humanity. It contains an abundance of the ornate and beautiful, rich in symbol and meaning, but with little touches that make us smile.
One medieval writer gives witness of how greatly The Book of Kells moved him:
“Fine craftsmanship is all about you, but you might not notice it. Look more keenly at it and you will penetrate to the very shrine of art. You will make out intricacies, so delicate and subtle, so exact and compact, so full of knots and links, with colors so fresh and vivid, that you might say that this was the work of an angel, and not of a man. For my part the oftener I see the book, and the more carefully I study it, the more I am lost in ever fresh amazement, and I see more and more wonders in the book.”
This quote exemplifies one of the qualities of The Book of Kells—it contains layers of detailing that make it unlikely for a viewer to be able to appreciate it all with a single brief look. One can spend hours letting the eyes settle upon a page and explore all the little secrets and mysteries hidden in the beautiful illuminations. It rewards a close look, and it unfolds its beauty, humor, and symbolic profundity slowly to the attentive eye.
Do you own a Bible that is particularly precious to you? Why so?
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
D I G D E E P E R
The Book of Kells and Illuminated Manuscripts
The Book of Kells: The Work of Angels? DVD. Directed by Murray Grigor. Forked River, NJ: Kultur Video, 2001.
Brown, Peter, ed. The Book of Kells. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980.
de Hamel, Christopher. A History of Illuminated Manuscripts. London: Phaidon, 1994.
Walther, Ingo, and Norbert Wolf. Masterpieces of Illumination. Köln: Taschen, 2005.
I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.
Let’s explore together!
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Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.
He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.
He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.
Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.
He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.
Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com
Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.
Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).
Order it HERE today.