Appreciating ancient artifacts

Today, Chris and I visited one of the most popular artifacts in Ireland, the Book of Kells, located on the campus of Trinity College in Dublin. Chris really wanted to see it, but I didn’t know anything about this artifact before we went to Trinity. I ended up joining him because I wanted to see the college’s campus. I’m glad I did. The campus was the beautiful old-style architecture I was expecting, but the book of Kells and the “Long Room” archive that accompanied it were a cool experience.

 

The book of Kells is an intricately crafted copy of the Bible which dates back to about the year 800. According to the exhibit preceding the book, this book was probably meant to sit on display on the Middle Ages’ equivalent of a coffee table. It was incredibly difficult to create. Pages had to be carved from calfskin, binding produced from wood, ink procured from plants, and of course, four scribes were put in charge of transcribing the entire bible, in Latin, in perfect handwriting for readers.

The whole exhibit reminded me how difficult mass communication was at the time the Book of Kells was constructed. In the days before the groundbreaking invention of the printing press, this detailed process was required to produce just one copy of the Bible. It’s no wonder that it was impossible to mass-produce copies.

I was explaining to Chris that the whole experience reminded me of my AP European History class from way back in sophomore year of high school, nearly six years ago. In that class, at the end of the year, we had a class discussion about which figure historians consider to be the most influential figure in modern history. As it turns out, many historians consider Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, to be most influential. This is because the printing press was an inextricable influence on all the historical events that came after it.

We also got to visit the Long Hall, a library of old books that dates back to the 1800s, when Trinity’s library was an official library for the government of Ireland. This featured a number of busts of important literary figures and important figures in Irish history, as well as more ancient artifact books in Irish legal history, and a symbolic Irish harp. Later on, we visited the Guinness beer museum. It was a great day of browsing Irish history.

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