27 May 2013, Monday
We woke up to rain. Gerry went off to work and I went off to breakfast, which was crowded, and not particularly special. (I’d been spoiled by Ursula!) Nonetheless, it’s important to start with breakfast. One of my most important travel rules is to eat when you have the opportunity, because you never know how the day’s going to unfold. It might be a very long time ’til lunch.
I had planned to walk through St. Stephen’s Green on my way up to Trinity College … but it was still pouring down rain. (The Irish have a lot of words to describe exactly how and how much it is raining. This was probably pissing rain.) So I cabbed straight to Trinity, where I planned to see the Book of Kells and the Long Room of the Old Library.
Trinity College, Wikipedia tells us, is “formally known as the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, [and] is the sole constituent college of the University of Dublin in Ireland.” Founded in 1592, it is Ireland’s oldest university (and a popular tourist attraction), and “was seen as the university of the Protestant Ascendancy for much of its history. Although Catholics and Dissenters had been permitted to enter as early as 1793, certain restrictions on their membership of the college remained until 1873 (professorships, fellowships and scholarships were reserved for Protestants), and the Catholic Church in Ireland forbade its adherents, without permission from their bishop, from attending until 1970. Women were first admitted to the college as full members in 1904.” Interesting, huh? One is never too far away the past in Ireland.
Among the graduates of Trinity are included notables in the fields of arts and sciences—like Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett (Nobel laureate in literature), Ernest Walton (Nobel laureate in physics), Mairead Maguire (Nobel laureate in peace), three holders of the office of president of Ireland, and one premier of New Zealand (Edward Stafford). There is some history here.
The library at Trinity is a copyright library for Ireland and the UK, which means it has more than 4.5 million volumes. And it has the Book of Kells. 🙂 We’d tried to see this most famous manuscript last fall (Margaret and I), but the lines were very long. I was soon to learn that this is now normal (I’d last seen the Book in 2003, and didn’t remember such lengthy queues).
Annnnd it was still pouring. I was there at 9:30 (when the exhibit opens) and there was already a line. Actually, a tour group—several tour groups. As I hesitated (do I want to stand in line in the rain?) another group came around the corner. Mindful of my father’s dictum—“he who hesitates is lost”—I hurried to the line and just sort of joined up with them. They were French.
Finally they started letting people in. (After I took the photo above, another line formed from the other end of the building! These tour groups have the inside line with the library, and why not? They bring fifty or sixty people in at fifteen euro per person. Frustrating for someone like me, though; I wish I’d known a less busy time to show up.)
The Book of Kells is a masterwork of Western calligraphy, Wikipedia says. For anyone who loves a book it is, simply, a thing of rare beauty. Many of the illuminations (illustrations) have become famous; you’d recognize them, perhaps without realizing the provenance. (Don’t believe me? Spend a few hours here—they’ve put the entire thing online. Be sure to zoom in. Oh, my, it’s enough to make a grown woman weep.) The book was created by monks around 800, though it’s not known definitively where. What exists now contains preliminary matter, the complete text of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the Gospel of John through John 17:13. It resided at Kells Abbey until 1654, when it was sent to Dublin for safekeeping; it was presented to Trinity in 1661 and has remained there ever since.
The text page I saw was open to Luke 23:21–24. The text is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina … but I’ll give you the KJV:
21 But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him.
22 And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go.
23 And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed.
24 And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.
Not, of course, that I could read it. (I could barely see it; the room was unbelievably packed and, of course, kept very dim to protect the fragile pages.) What’s interesting to me is this was a purely ceremonial Bible. Wikipedia says:
The book had a sacramental rather than educational purpose. A large, lavish Gospel, such as the Book of Kells, would have been left on the high altar of the church and taken off only for the reading … during Mass, with the reader probably reciting from memory more than reading the text from the book. It is significant that the Chronicles of Ulster state that the book was stolen from the sacristy (where the vessels and other accoutrements of the Mass were stored) rather than from the monastic library. The design of the book seems to take this purpose in mind; that is, the book was produced with appearance taking precedence over practicality. There are numerous uncorrected mistakes in the text. Lines were often completed in a blank space in the line above. The chapter headings that were necessary to make the canon tables usable were not inserted into the margins of the page. In general, nothing was done to disrupt the look of the page: aesthetics were given a priority over utility.
You caught that? “The book was produced with appearance taking precedence over practicality.” It’s an art book. 🙂
From there we were herded into the Long Room, which is the main chamber of the Old Library. Built between 1712 and 1732 (with the second floor added in 1860), this room contains two hundred thousand of the library’s oldest books.
This photo was taken just inside the entrance, so you can see how long the room is—roughly two hundred feet. And yes, these are my photos. The signs say No Flash Photography (and to be sure, I asked a docent before I snapped).
The Long Room is lined by forty-eight marble busts; the collection began in 1743 when fourteen of them were commissioned. You won’t know them all—there are philosophers and great writers (Shakespeare has a bust here) but some are just fellows who were important to the university.
Swift, as you know, was an Anglo-Irish satirist—you’ll remember him for Gulliver’s Travels, which you probably had to read in high school—and a student at Trinity (1682). Later he was dean at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Church of Ireland), and that’s what you see on this bust: Dean Swift. You’re also seeing him here without his wig, which is nice.
Also in the room are one of the few remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and a wooden harp—Ireland’s national symbol—dating from the fifteenth century. It’s the oldest of its kind and the model for the harp that appears on Irish coins.
The gift shop was so completely packed I didn’t even try to get a postcard. Instead I walked across Nassau Street and bought a rain hat—a source of some frustration, as I’d bought a lovely (and not inexpensive) rain hat at this same store last fall, and packed it and brought it back across the Atlantic … and then lost it, possibly/probably in Bewley’s. (And, worse, failed to check Bewley’s lost and found when we checked back in at the end of our trip! I’m an idiot!)
There’s more happening, but this post’s gotten long, so I’ll continue in Part 2.