Wednesday 1 March 2017

Notes on the Ley - The Trinity College Library, Dublin

A series of posts are going to run alongside the 'Notes of Alingnment' called 'Notes on the Ley' that explore the points of interest that run along the Arnolfini Ley. The line itself connects various sites of reading and book veneration amongst other interesting places. There are some fascinating connections that make the line interesting from a reading and book perspective. The acts of reading at these points give the Arnolfini Ley a synergy of gesture that we can tap into and explore.

The Long Room, Trinity College Library A

The first stop is the Trinity College Library in Dublin. Which has the stunningly iconic library space that is the Long Room. 

The Library was founded in 1592 with the founding of the College. The famous long room (pictured above) was built between 1712 and 1732 and houses 200,000 of the Library's oldest books. The Long Room originally had a flat ceiling and shelving for books only on the lower level.1 But by the 1850s the room had to be expanded as the current shelves were full. The Library was endowed with a Legal Deposit privilege in 1801, which meant (and still does) it received a copy of materials published in the United Kingdom and Ireland, vastly expanding the collection.2 

The Long Room, Trinity College Library as it existed before the extension. B

Altogether the Library houses over 6 million printed volumes with the most famous one being the Book of Kells, which was donated in 1661 by Henry Jones the then Vice Chancellor of Trinity College.2 

Folio 2r of the Book of Kells C

Folio 291v contains a portrait of John the Evangelist. D

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels of the New Testament in latin and believed to have been created c. 800 AD. 

The manuscript takes its name from the Abbey of Kells in Kells, County Meath, where it was kept for centuries.3 The book is thought to have had a more sacramental rather than educational purpose. In this sense, it would have been used more as a venerated object and as the focus of sacred and devotional events within the abbey. It would have been placed on the high altar of the church and removed only for the reading of the Gospel during Mass.4

The book can be viewed online in full here:

Although this book no longer exists in a church it is interesting that it would appear on the Arnolfini Ley. The Arnolfini Ley came about from the reading and reverence of books and the repeated actions of reading that exist along it. Nothing typifies this reverence than a book made for ceremony. The intense focus upon the repeated act of reading has found its place on the Arnolfini Ley and brings the Trinity College Library in alignment with the other points. Even today the book is visited and read by people almost as a pilgrimage. It has become the focus and centre of the Long Room from which the Ley radiates out from. 

Roger Powell rebinding the Book of Kells E

A repeated act that is also to note and concerns the hands relationship to the book and the repeated actions that they produce, is in its binding. By its very nature the act of reading is destructive and to preserve the book it has had to be rebound. Sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. A destructive rebind in the 19th century saw the book drastically reduced in size and its edges trimmed and gilded.5 

Roger Powell talking about binding F

More recently in the 1950s the book of Kells was rebound from one into four volumes by bookbinder Roger Powell to stretch and preserve several pages that had developed bulges.3 This rebinding has changed the experience of the book. Its pace though reading and handling and through the movement of hands. Even now as it lies on display in the Trinity College Library only two copies are out at any one time. Though they can't be held, they can be read next to each other and the reading of it in this way has transformed its whole appreciation. 



1 "Book of Kells - The Old Library & the Book of Kells Exhibition : Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin, Ireland". 2014-12-04
4 Calkins, Robert G. (1983). Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-1506-3.



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