New `Book of Kells' to mark millennium

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The Independent Online
THE BOOK OF KELLS, one of the most important illuminated manuscripts in the world, is to be recreated by more than 100 poets and artists in a pounds 200,000 project to mark the millennium.

Famed for its lavishly decorated text, the original version is believed to have taken up to 30 years for a team of monks to produce in the 7th century.

Now in the library of Trinity College, in Dublin, the volume is regarded by scholars as the most important example of Christian art of its kind.

Written in Latin, it includes the text of the Gospels decorated with designs understood to have been inspired by Celtic jewellery and painted using materials such as crushed lapis lazuli.

The idea to make a 21st century version, reproducing elements of the original plus new work from contemporary poets and artists, has come from the Gaelic Arts Agency, which aims to rival the original in cultural impact with the help of a pounds 27,000 grant from The Scottish Arts Council.

Works from 50 Scottish and Irish Gaelic poets will be included in the 100-page book, penned by calligraphers and decorated by artists.

The finished volume will tour the British Isles as part of an exhibition and will then spend half the year in Scotland and half in Ireland. The Gaelic Arts Agency is already in talks with museums and galleries, including Dublin Castle, which are keen to display the work.

The display case will be made of wood from the Isle of Reesay, off Scotland, which was home to Sorley Maclean, one of Scotland's greatest contemporary Gaelic poets and the inspiration for the Kells remake.

The poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney fought a long but unsuccessful battle for the work of Mr Maclean, who died in 1997 at the age of 85, to be nominated for a Nobel prize.

The College of Art, in Dundee, will be advising the Gaelic Arts Agency on the best materials to use, which will be as authentic as possible, but also practical. For example, the original book is made of vellum, but this is difficult for artists to work on.

Malcolm Maclean, a spokesman for the Gaelic Arts Agency, said the aim of the project is to celebrate Celtic culture in a spiritual rather than a religious way. "It will be a symbol of cultural survival and renewal which will be a revered artefact for years to come," he said.