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The Book of Kells

Work in the Irish monastery's scriptorium was an arduous, but meditative and highly esteemed labor of faith and devotion. The scribes worked through the daylight hours in the scriptorium in absolute silence, communicating their material needs in signs to an officer armarius. Each scribe worked with quill or reed pens and iron-gall ink on a folded section of vellum. Their Irish majuscule script demonstrates a sense of sublime balance and beauty; the finished capital initials are works of elaborate abstractions. When a quaternion was finished, it was sent to be illuminated. The Kells illuminations are distinctive, intricate, and mathematically precise. Eighth-century illumination usually depicts scenes from the life of Christ, however the Kells illuminators were exuberantly creative, drawing from the rich context of Irish religious imagery and Celtic artistic tradition. The mystical abstraction and high level of detail offered absorbing meditation for the artists and scribes. The craftsmanship shown in the Book of Kells is a distinctive treatment of sacred text, and the tandem work of scribes and artists in the scriptoria established a permanent place in the iconography of the Bible.