January 24, 2017

One set of scholars believes that the Book of Kells
was created to honor the 200th anniversary
of the death of Colum Cille (St. Columba).


In the Book of Kells, messengers are both seen and unseen:
framing the Virgin at the Nativity in all four corners;
the infant Christ, dressed as a small man, fully clothed,
on his mother’s knee. The angel in the upper left
seems to be saying Oh, my God. What have you done?
Do you really think this was a good idea?

The one on the upper right seems resigned. You want
to send him where?
While the two on the bottom, crowded
behind Mary’s chair, seem dwarfed by the occasion, relegated
to the corners. But they’re always there. I like the angels
on the arm of the chi in the great Chi Rho; you have to tilt
the page to see them, unflagrant, hovering above.
And some angels are almost hidden, like the one
in folio 48r, hands outstretched in prayer, framed
in the diamond-shaped O of Omnia. I wonder what
it would have been like to live then, in the time
of Colum Cille, when angels might have been hovering
in the breathable air?