3 Spiritual Lessons I Learned From Visiting The Book of Kells

Photo by jbyard on Bigstock

My husband and I recently went on a trip to Dublin, Ireland, excited to see the country where several of our ancestors came from. We had a wonderful time exploring the city, learning about Irish history, trying new foods, and going to different museums. One moment of the trip that particularly stood out to me was visiting the Book of Kells at Trinity College. The Book of Kells is an intricately decorated manuscript of the four Gospels, created by monks circa 800 A.D for sacramental purposes. 

While I was looking forward to seeing the Book of Kells to admire the detailed Celtic art, I was surprised by how the book ultimately prompted me to reflect on my spirituality as a Catholic. As I walked through the exhibit at Trinity College, I learned about how the book was created during tumultuous times, how painstakingly difficult it was to create, and how it served as a source of hope for people during dark times. 

As a Catholic, I look to find God in all things, and I was awestruck by how much I found him in my visit to see this ancient book. There were three main takeaways from visiting this book that stuck with me and that could inspire people of any faith looking to find the presence of a divine and loving creator in their lives.

You can find God in art.

The most impressive part of the Book of Kells is its artwork. Take one look at any of the pages, especially the Chi Rho page, and you’ll see vibrant colors, twisting Celtic knots, and religious iconography alongside the text. Admiring the books’ pages, it was easy for me to imagine the beauty and wonder of God.

The manuscript wasn’t simply meant to be a utilitarian way of reading the Gospels. Instead, it was meant to be something beautiful that people could admire and be inspired by. It made me think about how I can often reduce my Catholic faith to attending church on Sundays, when I can and should find God in all things. After all, even monks in 800 A.D. understood that God could be found in art. 

Viewing the Book of Kells reminded me that God is present in artwork, nature, movement, loved ones, and much more. God has an ever-present existence in my life that stretches far beyond church walls.

There is great value in delayed gratification.

It is estimated that the book took 75 years to complete. It’s hard for me to imagine working on something, knowing that I would likely never see the end result. It makes me wonder if the monks ever became impatient or thought about making less intricate designs to speed up the process. 

To me, the Book of Kells is a quintessential reminder that beauty is in the journey, not the destination. It’s admirable to think about the painstaking work that went into everything from preparing the calfskin pages to finding and mixing natural materials to create the ink and colors. 

Not to mention the book was created during a violent time of Viking raids. Surviving monks of a Viking attack are believed to have transported the manuscript from Iona to Kells where they thought it would be safer. It’s clear that this book had a larger purpose and likely served as a symbol of hope during dark times. 

Thinking about the creation of the book made me reflect on my prayer life. Sometimes I feel distant from God and it’s hard to imagine that my prayers make a difference at all. Can a small prayer really help heal my loved one whose body is taken over by illnesses? However, just as creating this book was a way to create hope during a dark time (and its creation can even be seen as an act of prayer itself) I am reminded that a prayer has value in and of itself. Prayer is not about instant gratification; instead, it’s a way for me to worship God and foster a closer relationship with him.

Things don’t have to be perfect for them to be valued.

I love that the Book of Kells is celebrated for its spiritual significance, admired for its artwork, and visited by people from all over the world, but is also riddled with mistakes. Some sections were left unfinished, and one page was even repeated. The errors in this incredible book don’t take away from its beauty. If anything, they add to the overall value of the book, reminding people of the labor-intensive work it took to handcraft each page, image, and letter.

The longstanding beauty of this book, regardless of and even because of its flaws, is a reminder that we are also imperfect and don’t need to be perfect to be worthy of love and respect. Our flaws do not define who we are as people. Even when I make a mistake at my job, show up late to an event, or say something to a loved one that I regret, I know that I am loved and worthy simply for being a child of God. 

Whether or not you have a chance to see the Book of Kells in Dublin, I hope that you can admire its creation and reflect on the greater lessons that this book has to share with the world.

Content Survey (Inline)

We want to know what you think!