Durrow (Darú in Irish) (meaning 'plain of the oaks') is a small rural village in County Offaly, Ireland. Durrow is located on the N52 off the N6 road between Kilbeggan (in County Westmeath) and Tullamore (in County Offaly).
Durrow Abbey, surrounded by woods, is one of Ireland's most important early christian monasteries founded by Saint Colmcille.
In the middle of the 6th century a monastery was founded here by St Colomba, the monastery is famous for an illuminated manuscript, written here in the 7th century, known as the Book of Durrow. West of the Church is a fine High Cross, the East face is pictured on the right, the head features Christ with sceptre and cross -staff, associated with the last judgement, and on his left a piper and David with his harp. On his right David and the lion are depicted. The bottom of the shaft on the East face shows the raised Christ flanked by two angels hovering above St Peter and St Paul. The central panel is a beautiful celtic interlace and the top panel bears the sacrifice of Isaac.The west face as usual has the Crucifixtion on the head and also the arrest of Christ. This is a fine cross standing at 3.60 metres.
In Spring 2004 the government bought Durrow Abbey and High Cross. It was vital that the High Cross was protected from any further deterioration.
DUBLIN, TRINITY COLLEGE MS A.4.5 (57) — GOSPEL BOOK (BOOK OF DURROW)
The Book of Durrow (Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS A. 4. 5. (57)) is a 7th century illuminated manuscript in the Insular style made either at Durrow Abbey near Durrow in County Offaly Ireland, or in Northumbria in Northern England, with modern and traditional scholarship tending towards Durrow. It was started in 650. It is a Gospel Book, possibly the oldest extant complete illuminated gospel from Ireland or Britain. The text includes the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, plus several pieces of prefatory matter. It measures 247 by 228 mm and contains 248 vellum folios. It contains a large illumination program including six extant carpet pages, a full page miniature of the four evangelist's symbols, four full page miniatures, each containing a single evangelist symbol, and six pages with decorated text. It is written in insular script.
In the 16th century, when the Durrow Abbey was dissolved, the book disappeared, and was found a century later. It managed to survive during that period having water poured over it by a farmer to cure his cows.
According to Bernard Meehan the Book of Durrow is "the earliest surviving fully decorated insular Gospel manuscript," (Meehan, 9.) It is considered to represent a "new, essentially medieval concept of embellishing the sacred text as though with precious jewels and textiles." (Calkins, 31.) It is the first example of a full program of decoration which complements the structure of the text. (Calkins, 36.) Its date of origin is controversial but is believed to be the late 7th century. Its origins have also been the subject of debate, with scholars arguing between Durrow and Northumbria as likely places of origin, with current scholarship leaning toward Durrow. Like the Codex Usserianus Primus and the Cathach of St. Columba, the Book of Durrow had its own shrine that was lost in the late 17th century. In the 17th century, the book was dipped into a trough for sick cattle to drink out of, as it was believed to possess curative powers.
The Book of Durrow continues the use of diminuendo seen in earlier manuscripts. It also continues the use of interlace decoration. Interlace is thought to have an apotropaic function because of its perceived ability to trap evil. Thus the interlace carpet pages could have been intended to protect the texts. The carpet pages utilize a variety of interlace, including animal interlace. Mediterranean influence is also present in the carpet pages. This text includes the first example of a cross being placed at the center of a carpet page (f. 1v.) According to Alexander, the animal interlace designs are probably Germanic, and are related to decoration found on items from the Sutton Hoo hoard. In this manuscript, the full force of Insular decoration is united with a Christian text for the first time.
The evangelists make their first Insular appearance in this manuscript. Calkins states, "The use of evangelist portraits can be seen as a logical outcome of a Mediterranean tradition stemming from the classical use of author portraits." (Calkins, 60.) The Man, the symbol of St. Matthew, is as one would expect of Celtic-influenced art: his body is an abstract bell shape with a head and two feet tacked on. The animal symbols are slightly more realistic. Each evangelist symbol page is followed by a carpet page (except for Matthew, whose carpet page is missing.) The carpet pages face the incipits of each Gospel. (Calkins, 37.) The four evangelists symbols, shown together on one page, are united by a cross, indicating the harmony of the Gospels. (Calkins, 36.) Textual decoration flowers with the Chi Rho monogram of this text. The decoration of the XPI monogram which stands for the name of Christ is considered to be the true beginning of the Gospel because it describes the birth of Christ. The beginning of the narrative of Christ's life is celebrated by the elaboration of the Chi Rho monogram, an example which will greatly exaggerated in the Book of Kells. (Calkins, 43.) Letters are elaborated in relation to their symbolic importance. The usual pairing of the eagle symbol for John and the lion for Mark has been reversed in this manuscript, and has been related to the writings of St. Irenaeus, a Bishop of Lyon from the 2nd century. (Calkins, 46.) Lawrence Nees suggests that the four-symbols page is related to an early southern Italian book cover, and that book covers were thought to have protective properties. (Nees, 4-5.) Calkins attributes this function to the carpet pages as well. Such designs were used on book covers, so these pages may serve as internal book covers. The ornaments are also similar to designs for textiles which would have been used for relic shrouds. (Calkins, 53.) Decorative elements are also drawn from stone carving and metalwork. (Calkins, 57.) Carpet page designs seem to have been painted to resemble metalwork, and could be derived from metalwork book covers or book shrines, as the one made for the Cathach of St. Columba. (Calkins, 59.) Other examples of Gospel books were bound singly, and the carpet pages may function as book covers meant to replicate that separate binding. (Calkins, 62.)
While the Insular artists did not develop the evangelist symbols, it seems worth addressing the possibility of whether there could be any connection between the evangelist symbols and the Celtic tradition of shape-shifting in decoration. Alexander notes that the Book of Durrowís evangelist symbols do not carry books, which is unusual. He suggests that in this case, perhaps the images function less as symbols of the evangelists than as their personifications. The evangelist symbols all consist of traditional Celtic decoration, including cloisonné-like partition and colors, spirals, dots, and triskele patterns. Illuminated letters are similarly decorated. The Book of Durrow combines styles which will be elaborated in subsequent Insular manuscripts.
The Book of Durrow is unusual in that it does not use the traditional scheme for assigning the symbols to the Evangelists. Each Gospel begins with an Evangelist's symbol - a man for Matthew, an eagle for Mark (not the lion traditionally used), a calf for Luke and a lion for John (not the eagle traditionally used). Each evangelist symbol, except the Man of Matthew is followed by a carpet page, followed by the initial page. This missing carpet page is assumed to have existed. A first possibility is that it was lost, and a second that it is in fact folio 3, which features swirling abstract decoration.
The first letter of the text is enlarged and decorated, with the following letters surrounded by dots. Parallels with metalwork can be noted in the rectangular body of St Matthew, which looks like a millefiori decoration, and in details of the carpet pages.
There is a sense of space in the design of all the pages of the Book of Durrow. Open vellum balances intensely decorated areas. Animal interlace of very high quality appears on folio 192v. Other motifs include spirals, triskeles, ribbon plaits and circular knots in the carpet pages and borders around the Evangelists
The Durrow is delightfully situated in the King's County, a few miles from the town of Tullamore. St. Columba, who loved to build in close proximity to oak-groves, because of their natural beauty, as well as perhaps to divest them of their Druidic associations, found here, as in Derry, a site just after his heart. It was freely given to him by Aedh, son of Brendan, lord of the soil, in 553, and the saint lost no time in founding his monastery, which, with more or less constant personal supervision, he ruled till 563. When, in that year, either as a matter of penance, or as Adamnan says, "of choice for Christ's sake", he became an exile in the wilds of Scotland, he appointed a most estimable monk, Cormac Ua Liathain, to take his place. But owing to the jealousies that existed between the northern and the southern tribes, especially on the borderland, Cormac found it impossible to retain the office of prior, and so he fled from the monastery, leaving in charge a first cousin of Columba, Laisren by name, who, acceptable to both sides, governed the institution with conspicuous success. Durrow, during Columba's life and for centuries after his death, was a famous school, at one time being esteemed second to none in the country. The Venerable Bede styles it Monasterium nobile in Hiberniâ, and, at a later period, Armagh and itself were called the "Universities of the West. It will be ever noted for the useful and admirable practice of copying manuscripts, especially of the Sacred Scriptures, which had become quite a fine art amongst the masters and disciples there. Columba himself, who was an expert scribe, is generally credited with having written with his own hand the incomparable copy of the Four Gospels now known as the "Book of Durrow". It is a piece of the most exquisite workmanship, charming the mind as well as the eye with its intricate and highly ornamental details. An entry on the back of one of the folios of this remarkable book, which is now to be seen in Trinity College, Dublin, prays for a "remembrance of the scribe, Columba, who wrote this evangel in the space of twelve days"
Columba dearly loved Durrow. It held a place in his affections next to his own Derry, and while in Iona he manifested the tenderest interest in everything that concerned its welfare. When he was urging Cormac Ua Liathain to return to the monastery there, he recounted for him the manifold beauties of that "city devout, with its hundred crosses, without blemish, and without transgression", and added, "I pledge thee my unerring word, which may not be impugned, that death is better in reproachless Erin than life forever in Alba," Durrow, like Clonard, Derry, and the rest, was frequently ravaged by the Danish invaders, but its complete devastation was left for the fierce Norman invader, Hugh de Lacy. In 1186 he began the building of a castle for himself out of the stones of the dismantled monastery, but the axe of an Irish labouring man cut him short in his unholy work. The church and the school are long since gone; not a stone of the original building may now be found. There are, however, still to be seen at Durrow a churchyard, probably marking the ancient site, a Celtic cross, and a holy well, which will serve to keep the name and the fame of St. Columba fresh in the minds of the people forever.