Monday, September 17, 2007

The Book That Started a Battle

Maureen left a comment on my post about St. Columba which I'm bumping up here because of the really cool picture:

"Here's a picture of the little book that started the big war. The Cathach (Battler) of St. Columba."

Besides being the oldest extant Irish manuscript of the Psalter, the Cathach is also the earliest example of Irish writing. It is traditionally thought to have been the one which St. Columba secretly transcribed from a book owned by St. Finnian. (Would that make Columba the patron saint of software and DVD pirates?) Their dispute over the rightful ownership of Columba’s illegitimate copy ultimately led to the Battle of Cul Dremne in 561. The manuscript can be dated late 6th to early 7th century from its script, but modern historical scholarship has cast doubt on the dating and whether Columba actually wrote it. (Phooey on them!)

I love the large initial letters at the beginning of each psalm. Do you notice the way that the letters next to the initial start out large and then gradually shrink back down to the size of the regular text?

There are more pictures here at the Royal Irish Academy where you can also download a longer description of the manuscript which includes an account of the manuscript's original condition when it was discovered and the various kinds of restoration that it has undergone:

"Pieces of degreased fish skin were used for joining butted edges in the vellum mounts." (Besides a voracious love of reading I am fascinated by bookbinding.)

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