The Brightest Gem in the Spiritual Crown of Rome

The ignorance or supineness which characterises so many English writers on Celtic history is to be found even among Highland and Irish clerics and others who have not taken the trouble to study or even become acquainted with their own ancient literature, but fallen into the foolish and discreditable conventionalism which maintains that before Columban or in pre-Christian days the Celtic race consisted of wholly uncivilised and broken tribes, rival only in savagery.

How little true that is; as wide of truth as the statements that the far influences of Iona ceased with the death of Columba. Not only was the island for two centuries thereafter (in the words of an eminent historian) “the nursery of bishops, the centre of education, the asylum of religious knowledge, the place of union, the capital and necropolis of the Celtic race,” but the spiritual colonies of Iona had everywhere leavened western Europe. Charlemagne knew and reverenced “this little people of Iona,” who from a remote island in the wild seas beyond the almost as remote countries of Scotland and England had spread the Gospel everywhere. Not only were many monasteries founded by monks from Iona in the narrower France of that day, but also in Lorraine, Alsatia, in Switzerland, and in the German states; in distant Bavaria even, no fewer than sixteen were thus founded. In the very year the Danes made their first descent on the doomed island, a monk of Iona was Bishop of Tarento in Italy. In a word, in that day, Iona was the brightest gem in the spiritual crown of Rome.

Note to page 118 of The Works of “Fiona MacLeod” (Uniform Edition), Volume IV, arranged by Mrs. William Sharp, William Heinemann, London, 1912.

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Corpus-Cotton Gospels: Folio 1 Recto

Folio 1 recto from Corpus Christi College, MS 197B (Otho-Corpus Gospels); the Eagle of St. John. The Otho-Corpus Gospels is a badly damaged and fragmentary 8th century illuminated manuscript. It was part of the Cotton library and was mostly burnt in the 1731 fire at Ashburnham House. The manuscript now survives as charred fragments in the British Library (MS Cotton Otho C V). Thirty six pages of the manuscript were not in the Cotton collection and survived the fire. They are now in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MS 197B).

Folio 202 Verso

Folio 202 verso from the Book of Kells; the Temptation of Christ.

Book of Deer: Folio 5 Recto

Folio 5 recto from the Book of Deer; the text of the Gospel of St. Matthew from 1:18 through 1:21. Note the Chi Rho monogram in the upper left corner. The margins contain Gaelic text.

The Book of Deer (Leabhar Dhèir in Gaelic) (Cambridge University Library, MS. Ii.6.32) is a 10th-century Latin Gospel Book with early 12th-century additions in Latin, Old Irish and Scottish Gaelic. It is noted for containing the earliest surviving Gaelic writing from Scotland.

The origin of the book is uncertain, however it is reasonable to assume that the manuscript was at Deer, Aberdeenshire, Scotland when the marginalia were written. It may be the oldest surviving manuscript produced in Scotland, and is notable for having possibly originated in what is now considered a Lowland area. The manuscript belongs to a category of what are known today as Irish pocket Gospel Books, which were produced for private rather than for liturgical use. While the manuscripts to which the Book of Deer is closest in character are all Irish, most scholars argue for a Scottish origin. The book has 86 folios and measures 54 mm by 107 mm. It is written on vellum in brown ink and is in a modern binding.

Folio 188 Recto

Folio 188 recto from the Book of Kells; the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Luke.

Book of Durrow: Folio 191 Verso

Folio 191 verso from the Book of Durrow; the Lion, a symbol of St. John.

Book of Durrow: Folio 192 Verso

Folio 192 verso from the Book of Durrow; knot work and zoomorphic interlace.

Lindisfarne Gospels: Folio 2 Verso

Folio 2 verso from the Lindisfarne Gospels; a cross-carpet page.

Lindisfarne Gospels: Folio 211 Recto

Folio 211 recto from the Lindisfarne Gospels; the beginning of the Gospel According to St. John.

Folio 200 Recto

Folio 200 recto from the Book of Kells; (part of) St. Luke’s genealogy of Jesus.

Lindisfarne Gospels: Folio 29 Recto

Folio 29 recto from the Lindisfarne Gospels; St Matthew’s Gospel includes a second major initial page, marking the beginning of the Christmas story. The first three lines contain the words: Christi autem generatio sic erat — Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise.

Lindisfarne Gospels: Folio 27 Recto

Folio 27 recto from the Lindisfarne Gospels. Incipit to the Gospel of St. Matthew.