"The Mystical Beasts of Ireland's Book of Kells": A GIFT lecture at Assumption Center

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On Sunday afternoon March 14, Professor Kathleen Fisher of Assumption College offered a fascinating look at the many animals found in Ireland's great treasure, the medieval Book of Kells. This manuscript, painstakingly written by Irish monks sometime between the seventh and the ninth centuries, is considered by most scholars to represent the highest expression of the art of Celtic illumination. Interestingly, however, as Dr. Fisher pointed out, many of the images in the book suggest influences from places as disparate as the Byzantine eastern Mediterranean and the Ibero-Islamic culture of southern Spain.

Her chief interest is in the animals that roam throughout the manuscript, sometimes doing guard duty over certain words, sometimes actually pointing to a particular word or place in the text. They also often form parts of the capital letters; occasionally, they become the text themselves, drawing our eye deeper into the word of the Word. Sometimes playful, at other times they are quite fearsome. The book's cats and dogs and birds seem fairly naturalistic, perhaps because they were familiar creatures. But because the verdant savannahs of County Meath hosted neither lions nor winged calves, the monks had free rein to paint them as they thought they might or ought to -- be.

Using a rich collection of slides and her own enthusiastic love of the subject, Professor Fisher gave us a glimpse into the world of Celtic Christianity, a world that thought of its relationship with God in terms of "thin places," that is, actual places where the gap between heaven and earth was "thin," where God might break through at any moment. After this afternoon's talk, it seemed to many in the audience that the Book of Kells itself could qualify as one such place, if only because it invites its viewers to move away from the mundane into something quite different, something strange and beautiful and not quite tame.


GIFT (Growing In Faith Together) is a series of short lectures for adults on spiritual topics sponsored by the Religious of the Assumption and St. Peters-St. Andrews Church, under the auspices of The Assumption Center. The Assumption Center is a project of the U.S. Province of the Religious of the Assumption, undertaken as a way to mark and celebrate the canonization of our foundress, Marie Eugenie Milleret, in June 2007. It offers an educational outreach to the neighborhood ESL classes, tutoring sessions, programs for teens and adults and also serves as the headquarters of AMA, the Associate Missionaries of the Assumption, our lay volunteer organization.


Next GIFT Lecture:

"A Pilgrimage to Jerusalem" with Rev. Dr. Richard Simpson, Rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church, Holden, MA and Adjunct Professor, Assumption College.

Sunday, April 25, 3:30 p.m.
St. Andrew's Church Hall, corner of Spaulding and Vineyard Streets, Worcester, MA.
Free off-street parking in the church lot on Vineyard Street. Refreshments will be served.
All lectures are free and open to the public.


For more information: center@assumptionsisters.org