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July 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Digging Deeper
The Book of Killowen is Erin Hart’s latest book about Nora Galvin, an American forensic pathologist who finds herself at home in the bogs of Ireland. A strong entry in an outstanding series, it begins when a ninth-century corpse is discovered in a car trunk—on top of the body of a more recently murdered pop philosopher. Deftly binding past and present, the story hinges on an ancient manuscript whose power to incite passion seems to be very much alive. Curious as to the story’s origins, we asked Hart to share some inspiration, research, and further reading. Readers captivated by her tale may well wish to dig a little deeper.
The Book of Kells, by Bernard Meehan
This recent book about the most famous Irish manuscript in the world comes from Bernard Meehan, Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College Library, Dublin, which is home to the Book of Kells. It has 250 actual-size illustrations, as well as many enlarged details from the manuscript, which is exquisitely intricate and only measures 9.8 by 13 inches. Meehan gives a history of the book itself, relays stories about the scribes and artists who created it, and offers background and information on the images, symbols, and iconography throughout the book.
A Celtic Miscellany: Translations from the Celtic Literatures, by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson
A wonderful collection of poetry, prose, epigrams, myths, spells, charms, and bardic sagas from ancient Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
The Faddan More Psalter: Discovery, Conservation, and Investigation, by Anthony Read
A fascinating look at the artifact that inspired The Book of Killowen, the Faddan More Psalter, a ninth-century book of psalms that turned up in a Tipperary bog in 2006. Anthony Read, Keeper of Conservation at the National Museum of Ireland, details the recovery, conservation, and archaeological significance of this unique find, including an interpretation of physical details and comparisons of the artwork and materials to other contemporary manuscripts.
Héman Dubh, by Cláirseach
This CD of Irish harp music was my accompaniment as I was writing The Book of Killowen. On it my friend Ann Heymann plays a wire-strung harp, like the character Tessa Gwynne in the novel. The title track is a rhythmic waulking song from the Hebrides, used by women as they “waulked,” stretching lengths of woollen cloth across a table, an important step in the traditional hand-weaving process. There’s another wonderful track, “Song of the Books,” a lament composed by the great Irish poet Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháin (1785–1848) upon the loss of his library at sea.
How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, by Thomas Cahill
An entertaining and poetic story of how Irish monks quietly went about transcribing ancient works and filling the libraries of Europe at a time when classical philosophy and learning were not a high priority to the ruling culture.
Illuminating the Word: The Making of the Saint John’s Bible, by Christopher Calderhead
The Saint John’s Bible is the only full edition of the Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the invention of the printing press. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the exhibit a couple of times and to interview a librarian at the Abbey who works with ancient manuscripts. This book goes into great detail about the history of illuminated bibles and all the various artistic and technical processes that went into its creation, from design to ink-making to calligraphy.
Irish Shrines and Reliquaries of the Middle Ages, by Raghnall Ó Floinn
Written by the former Keeper of Antiquities (and now Head of Collections) at the National Museum of Ireland, this book explores the art and craft of the fantastic metalwork boxes made to contain special books and saintly relics during the height of Irish monastic life in the early Middle Ages.
John Scottus Eriugena, by Deirdre Carabine
A comprehensive, accessible, and entertaining summary of the life and work of this great early medieval Irish philosopher, whose writings play a large part in The Book of Killowen. From the Great Medieval Thinkers series.
The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
I read this wonderful novel years ago, but its vivid depiction of life and mysterious death in a medieval monastery stayed with me. The movie version, starring Sean Connery as the sleuthing monk William of Baskerville, is also excellent and very faithful to the book.
Periphyseon: On the Division of Nature, by John the Scot (also known as John Scottus Eriugena), translated by Myra L. Uhlfelder
For those who like to go straight to the source, this is a new (and slightly abridged) edition of John Scottus Eriugena’s great philosophical work, which was condemned as heresy by some of his fellow theologians during his lifetime.
The Process of Creating the St. John’s Bible
This short film about the making of the Saint John’s Bible comes from the On Being program archives at American Public Media. It includes interviews with officials from the Benedictine monastery at St. John’s in Collegeville, Minnesota, which commissioned the first handwritten copy of the bible created in hundreds of years, and with Donald Jackson, head calligrapher and artist on the project. It has wonderful footage of Jackson mixing ink and working on pages from the book as he describes how mysterious and spiritual the process of wordmaking is for him as an artist.
Reading the Faddan More Psalter: An Introduction, by Eamonn P. Kelly and Maeve Sikora
Offered as both a printed piece and a downloadable book, this monograph was written by Kelly, Keeper of Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, and Sikora, Assistant Keeper, and offers amazing images and translations of the fragments of Latin script from the Psalter that are now on permanent display at the National Museum in Dublin. It’s intended as a walk-through guide to the exhibition.
Stories from a Sacred Landscape: Croghan Hill to Clonmacnoise, by Caimin O’Brien
This wonderful picture book visits 13 sites in County Offaly (my husband’s home county), a place teeming with important monasteries during the early Middle Ages. Author O’Brien offers images of monastic ruins, high crosses, holy wells, and all of the fantastic illuminated manuscripts that came from these peculiarly Irish centers of learning and art. Translations of ancient poetry, stories and legends, and passages from the monks’ own histories, The Annals of the Four Masters, help conjure the past in words as well as pictures.
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