Question: What manuscript is permanently on display at Trinity College in Dublin? (Hint: It was the unlikely target of a trademark dispute from a popular fast food chain.)
Answer: The Book of Kells
To simply consider the Book of Kells a “book” belies its vast historic and cultural significance. Widely considered Ireland’s greatest national treasure, this ornately decorated manuscript of the four Gospels has its own fascinating story—a story that began in a monastery around the ninth century AD and ends, safely and incredibly, on display at Trinity College. Along the way, it encountered so many misadventures—and even a trademark dispute—it’s a wonder that the book is still (for the most part) intact.
- Ghost writers: The circumstances around the book’s creation are shrouded in mystery. The most widely accepted theory is that it was begun at around 800 AD at a monastery in Scotland, which the monks abandoned in 806 after a bloody Viking raid. They fled to Kells, northwest of Dublin, where the book was completed—probably by the hands of several contributors. The beautiful illustrations contain not only gold vellum, but also ten different colors, which were incredibly expensive to source at the time. The cover was encrusted in gold and jewels.
- Poor proofreading: Despite the painstaking artistry employed in creating the book, it contains several errors, such as the omission of letters and even entire words, and the repetition of text on multiple pages.
- Uncovered: In general, life in Kells was pretty unstable, with the abbey enduring frequent Viking raids. The book survived until 1006, when it was “wickedly stolen during the night.” It was found in a ditch two months later, missing its precious cover but otherwise mostly intact.
- Scrap paper: In the 12th century, notes pertaining to property transactions were inscribed on some of the book’s blank pages. Oddly, this was a common practice at the time, since paper was very rare. Other small—and less careless—additions followed over the years, including a poem about a holy relic in the 16th century.
- Cutting corners: Perhaps the most surprising crime against the book didn’t occur until 1821, when it was being rebound. The bookbinder trimmed about a half inch from the margins of each page, resulting in the loss of many decorations.
- Have it your way: In August of 2015, when Trinity College attempted to use the initials “BK” in a trademark related to merchandise, Burger King put up a fight, lest anyone confuse the sacred tome with an order of burgers and fries. It took some convincing for the fast food chain to stand down, begrudgingly agreeing that the Book of Kells is unlikely to pose a threat to its business.
View the Book of Kells in Dublin with Grand Circle during Ireland in Depth.