Review: Exploring the Book of Kells, by George Simms.

Since I began working with The Saint John’s Bible, I have become fascinated by the physicality of Bibles as books. Not just the art, but even the size, typography, and presence of critical notes in a text reflects and impacts the way we interpret the Bible. Art historians who study biblical manuscripts know this [links], but I rarely see it discussed in biblical studies circles. The physicality of the Bible is just one question that The Saint John’s Bible raises for biblical scholars.

So it was with some interest that I recently picked up George Otto Simms’ Exploring the Book of Kells. In 71 pages, Simms introduces this book, the most famous Anglo-Saxon illuminated biblical manuscript. The Book of Kells contains only the Gospels, and dates to c. 800 from the community of monks at Iona and later at Kells. Simms discusses the daily lives of the monks who created this Gospel book, with some charming illustrations of their daily monkish lives. He discusses some of the more famous illuminations and quirky marginalia in this manuscript, including the famous “XRI” page reproduced so often.

Though I learned a few things from this book, I’m not sure I would recommend it. It has very few color images, and no bibliography for further reading. Simms is not an art historian but a priest, so he misses out on some of the terminology a manuscript scholar would use. Still, this might be a good book for a younger audience.

 

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