Letter: Don't read too much into the Book of Kells

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The Independent Online
Sir: S Smyth (letter, 26 March), in his anxiety to refute Andrew Barr's allegation of medieval Ireland's "backwardness", is unwise to ask rhetorically, "where does he think the Book of Kells came from?".

Quite apart from a body of scholarly opinion which suspects that it may have been written and illustrated outside Ireland (Northumbria was strongly advocated at one time), it is very evident that several of the great illustrated pages reflect a pronounced Eastern Mediterranean artistic tradition.

Far stronger proof of sophisticated medieval Irish artistry resides in the exquisite decoration and elegant technique of the Ardagh chalice and Tara brooch. Like the magnificent High Crosses, these exceptional examples of medieval craftsmanship demonstrate how, spared the adulterating influence of Roman occupation, native Irish craftsmen adapted prehistoric motifs, inherited directly from their Bronze and Iron Age masters, in order to celebrate themes dear to newly arrived Christianity.

Ian Mertling-Blake

Melvaig, Wester Ross

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