by Christine Sine
The Chi Rho page from the Book of Kells is a wonderful image to meditate on as we prepare our hearts for Christmas (and for Thanksgiving here in the U.S.) I was reminded of this as I continued to read through David Cole’s Celtic Advent today.
I pulled out one of my copies of some of the beautiful images from the Book of Kells and spent much of my devotional time running my fingers round the intricate patterns of what is the most magnificent and ornate example of calligraphy I have ever seen. It is probably one of the most magnificent examples of calligraphy ever created.
Most of the pattern is built around the Greek letters XP (Chi Rho) to represent the first word Christi. The remaining words translated h auteum generatio from the opening words of Matthew 1 v18 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ”, are almost lost in the midst of the amazing swirls, knot work, faces and animal figures of the plate. We need a magnifying glass to separate the details of the interweaving pattern and one wonders how the monks created such delicate work in the days before such tools existed.
Legend has it that this magnificent folio was created by St Columba on Iona but our first real knowledge of it is from the Abbey of Kells from which it was stolen in 1006, then buried for three months. When recovered its jewel encrusted golden cover was gone forever. It was gifted to Trinity College Dublin by Charles II in 1661 and has remained there ever since.
Whoever created these pages, they must have poured a good deal of time and energy and I suspect, love into them. Can you imagine the preparatory meditation and prayer that was required? Or the loving reverence and passion for God which inspired and ultimately preserved it. Did the spirit of God hover over them as they painstakingly crafted the intricate figures? Did God, the master craftsman guide their pens and improve their eyesight to create the minute patterns? And then did God provide a wall of protection to keep this loving testament to Christ alive for all of us to appreciate?
A Doorway Into the Life of Christ
David Cole comments that “this artwork was an entranceway, a doorway into the gospel – a contemplative and meditative way into the story of the life of Christ”. I agree and it is a very fitting doorway, one that invites us to sit and contemplate not just the beauty and richness of the image before us, but also of the life of the One whose birth we are preparing to celebrate.
Set aside time today to contemplate this image. Read 1:18 in The Voice, several times: Here finally is the story of the birth of Jesus the Anointed (It is quite a remarkable story) Run your fingers over the intricate (and remarkable) knot work and spirals in the pattern. Allow them to open a doorway into the remarkable story of Jesus’s birth.
Close your eyes and contemplate the image you have been admiring. What comes to mind of the remarkable story of Jesus as you do so?
Respond with a prayer, a poem or craft your own image.
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