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A digitised version of the entire manuscript may also be seen online. The Book of Kells is one of the finest and most famous, and also one of the latest, of a group of manuscripts in what is known as the Insular style , produced from the late 6th through the early 9th centuries in monasteries in Ireland, Scotland and England and in continental monasteries with Hiberno-Scottish or Anglo-Saxon foundations. Columba , the Ambrosiana Orosius , fragmentary Gospel in the Durham Dean and Chapter Library all from the early 7th century , and the Book of Durrow from the second half of the 7th century.
From the early 8th century come the Durham Gospels , the Echternach Gospels , the Lindisfarne Gospels see illustration at right , and the Lichfield Gospels.
Among others, the St. Gall Gospel Book belongs to the late 8th century and the Book of Armagh dated to — to the early 9th century. Scholars place these manuscripts together based on similarities in artistic style, script, and textual traditions. The fully developed style of the ornamentation of the Book of Kells places it late in this series, either from the late 8th or early 9th century. The Book of Kells follows many of the iconographic and stylistic traditions found in these earlier manuscripts.
For example, the form of the decorated letters found in the incipit pages for the Gospels is surprisingly consistent in Insular Gospels. Compare, for example, the incipit pages of the Gospel of Matthew in the Lindisfarne Gospels and in the Book of Kells , both of which feature intricate decorative knot work patterns inside the outlines formed by the enlarged initial letters of the text.
For a more complete list of related manuscripts, see: List of Hiberno-Saxon illustrated manuscripts. The Abbey of Kells in Kells, County Meath had been founded, or refounded, from Iona Abbey , construction taking from until the consecration of the church in Traditionally, the book was thought to have been created in the time of Columba ,  possibly even as the work of his own hands.
This tradition has long been discredited on paleographic and stylistic grounds: most evidence points to a composition date c. Columba's death in The proposed dating in the 9th century coincides with Viking raids on Iona, which began in and eventually dispersed the monks and their holy relics into Ireland and Scotland.
There are at least five competing theories about the manuscript's place of origin and time of completion. Second, the book may have been produced entirely at Iona. Fourth, it may have been produced in the north of England, perhaps at Lindisfarne , then brought to Iona and from there to Kells. Finally, it may have been the product of Dunkeld or another monastery in Pictish Scotland, though there is no actual evidence for this theory, especially considering the absence of any surviving manuscript from Pictland.
Kells Abbey was plundered and pillaged by Vikings many times in the beginning of the 9th century  , and how the book survived is not known.
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This entry records that "the great Gospel of Columkille, Columba  the chief relic of the Western World, was wickedly stolen during the night from the western sacristy of the great stone church at Cenannas on account of its wrought shrine". The force of ripping the manuscript free from its cover may account for the folios missing from the beginning and end of the Book of Kells. The description in the Annals of the book as "of Columkille"—that is, having belonged to, and perhaps being made by Columba—suggests that the book was believed at that time to have been made on Iona.
Regardless, the book was certainly at Kells in the 12th century, when land charters pertaining to the Abbey of Kells were copied onto some of its blank pages. The practice of copying of charters into important books was widespread in the medieval period, and such inscriptions in the Book of Kells provide concrete evidence about its location at the time. The Abbey of Kells was dissolved because of the ecclesiastical reforms of the 12th century.
The abbey church was converted to a parish church in which the Book of Kells remained. The 12th-century writer Gerald of Wales , in his Topographia Hibernica , described seeing a great Gospel Book in Kildare which many have since assumed was the Book of Kells.
The description certainly matches Kells:. This book contains the harmony of the Four Evangelists according to Jerome , where for almost every page there are different designs, distinguished by varied colours. Here you may see the face of majesty, divinely drawn, here the mystic symbols of the Evangelists, each with wings, now six, now four, now two; here the eagle, there the calf, here the man and there the lion, and other forms almost infinite.
Look at them superficially with the ordinary casual glance, and you would think it is an erasure, and not tracery. 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 colours so fresh and vivid, that you might say that all 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.
Since Gerald claims to have seen this book in Kildare, he may have seen another, now lost, book equal in quality to the Book of Kells, or he may have misstated his location. The Book of Kells remained in Kells until In that year, Cromwell 's cavalry was quartered in the church at Kells, and the governor of the town sent the book to Dublin for safekeeping. Henry Jones , who later became bishop of Meath after the Restoration , presented the manuscript to Trinity College in Dublin in , and it has remained there ever since, except for brief loans to other libraries and museums. It has been on display to the public in the Old Library at Trinity since the 19th century.
Over the years, the Book of Kells received several additions to its text. In the 16th century, one Gerald Plunkett of Dublin added a series of Roman numerals numbering the chapters of the Gospels according to the division created by 13th-century Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton. The manuscript's rise to worldwide fame began in the 19th century.
The association with St. Columba, who died the same year Augustine brought Christianity and literacy to Canterbury from Rome, was used to demonstrate Ireland's cultural primacy, seemingly providing "irrefutable precedence in the debate on the relative authority of the Irish and Roman churches". Over the centuries, the book has been rebound several times. During a 19th-century rebinding, the pages were badly cropped, with small parts of some illustrations being lost.
The book was also rebound in , but that rebinding broke down quickly. By the late s, several folios had detached completely and were kept separate from the main volume. In , bookbinder Roger Powell rebound the manuscript in four volumes and stretched several pages that had developed bulges. In , the volume containing the Gospel of Mark was sent to Canberra , Australia, for an exhibition of illuminated manuscripts.
This was only the fourth time the Book of Kells had been sent abroad for exhibition. The volume suffered what has been called "minor pigment damage" while en route to Canberra.
It is thought that the vibrations from the aeroplane's engines during the long flight may have caused the damage. The Book of Kells contains the four Gospels of the Christian scriptures written in black, red, purple, and yellow ink in an insular majuscule script, preceded by prefaces, summaries, and concordances of Gospel passages. One folio number, 36, was mistakenly double-counted. The bifolios are nested inside of each other and sewn together to form gatherings called quires.
On occasion, a folio is not part of a bifolio but is instead a single sheet inserted within a quire.