The Book of Kells: Symbols of the Four Evangelists

The Book of Kells TCD MS 58 f27v

The Book of Kells TCD MS 58 f27v

The Book of Kells folio 27v is among the most frequently reproduced pages from that famous manuscript. Its main images depict the symbols of the four Evangelists: Matthew is represented by the Man, Mark by the Lion, Luke by the Calf, and John by the Eagle. The symbols have haloes and wings, a double set in the case of the Calf. The symbol of Matthew holds a flabellum, an instrument used in the early church to protect the Eucharist and its vessels from impurities. The Eagle perches on a footstool. The symbols are in framed panels around a cross, with another, stepped cross at its centre. Interlaced snakes writhe in four T-shaped panels at each extremity of the cross. In the corner pieces at the top right and lower left of the frame, a Eucharistic chalice sprouts vine tendrils which are bitten by perching peacocks. Interlaced human figures are compressed within the corresponding corner-pieces at the top left and lower right of the frame. In the box lower right, four figures stand within the confines of their frame, their necks unnaturally elongated and their heads hanging down in what may be intended to recall the Crucifixion. In the box at the top left of the page are four men with red triangles on their cheeks; with knees bent, they pull each other’s beards.

Bernard Meehan

[Adapted from Bernard Meehan, The Book of Kells (London, Thames & Hudson, 2012) Further details from the Book of Kells are described by Bernard Meehan in http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/gallery/2012/dec/14/book-kells-pictures#/?picture=400651743&index=0]

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