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The Book Of Kells

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"The Book of Kells- Arrest of Christ", Insular Monks, on vellum, c. 900 B.C., now in the Trinity College library

When Saint Patrick began the Christianization of the Celts in 432, he empowered the development of a unique form of monastic organization. Irish monasteries meshed traditional Christianity with cultural values of the British Isles, creating the Hiberno-Saxon style of art, best known for its illuminated manuscripts of the Christian Church. Irish monks illustrated Gospels as a method of spreading the Word of God to a predominantly illiterate population. The most elaborate of these Liturgical books is the Book of Kells, a fusion of artistic styles. The book contains the four gospels, along with illuminations of the evangelists and important biblical scenes. It is difficult to believe that the complexities of Christianity were conveyed by pictures, but in actuality these illustrations emphasized the quintessential elements of Christian faith. Rather than focusing on minor details, such art enabled the public to comprehend the overall message of Christianity. A prime example of this is the illustration of Christ's arrest in the Book of Kells, which flawlessly relates the intense emotions and significance of the event.

According to the Gospel of John, after the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples travel to a garden called Gethsemane in Jerusalem, which most scholars believe to have been an olive grove. When the group arrives, Jesus leaves them in order to pray privately. He asks God to take his burden from him, requesting that the need for his struggles be alleviated. Ultimately, though, concludes that he will do whatever is God's will.

After Jesus returns from praying, Judas arrives with a crowd of soldiers. Judas gives Jesus a kiss, a pre-arranged sign to identify Jesus, and the soldiers immediately arrest him. One of Christ's disciples pulls his sword and attempts to stop the soldiers from making the arrest, but Jesus criticizes the violent act and orders the disciples not to resist. The disciples then flee the scene, and eventually Jesus alone is arrested and later crucified.

Christ's acquiescence to the soldiers is among the most crucial events in Christianity because it evinces the fact that Jesus chose to give up his life. We should note that this did not come easily to him. His prayers in the garden reveal that he was genuinely scared and was struggling to do what was asked of him. We see his acquiescence to the soldiers and his fear in the illustration of his arrest. The page depicts three men standing under an arch; the man in the middle, who is proportionately larger than the other two figures, is Christ, whose godliness is represented by his immensity. The other two men, who are Roman soldiers, stand at either side of him; grasping his armsÐ'--a pointless act, given his size. He could certainly overpower them, but instead he stretches his arms out towards the soldiers, signifying his peaceful surrender; all the while, he wears a worried facial expression. Amazingly, the Gospel and the illustration both convey the same message. The illustration adds a powerful visualization to the scene, reinforcing the story's tone and allowing it to resonate in a uniquely artistic fashion.

Although society is, for the most part, literate and there is an abundance of Bibles, the Book of Kells's importance has not diminished since it was written nearly eleven centuries ago. Scholars continue to study the visual elements found on its pages, as well as the insight into Insular culture



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