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Special Collections at Iona University Libraries

About the Facsimile at Iona University

The facsimile edition of the Book of Kells that is on display in the lobby of Ryan Library was donated to the University on October 18, 1990 by The Wild Geese, a Greenwich-Connecticut-based Irish Cultural Organization.  The donation was in Honor of Iona University's 50th Anniversary.

Only 1480 copies of this facsimile of the original Book of Kells were produced by the Fine Art Facsimile Publishers of Switzerland. The facsimile edition took ten years to produce, and is considered to be indistinguishable from the original, under museum viewing conditions. The pages of the facsimile are identical in size and shape to the original manuscript pages. This accuracy extends to duplicating any damage and holes (including worm holes) that appear in the original. The surface appearance of the paper is as close as possible to the condition of the original, although it does not feel like the original vellum.

A special photographic book cradle had to be manufactured to hold the original safely. Kodak Ektachrome color transparencies were color corrected electronically, then passed to a lithographer who made additional color corrections by hand using as many as ten printing inks per page. As the lithographer perfected the color balance, examples of the pages were compared with the original to fine-tune the color.

After the pages were duplicated they were sewn into gatherings hand-bound in a white skin, a book construction similar to the original. Since the original bindings were lost, the decision was made to use a conservative white skin binding rather than speculate on the color and design of the original. The final product is 9.5 x 13 inches and weighs 20 pounds. A presentation box with gold and silver embossing was also designed using decorative elements from the original Book of Kells.

Currently on Display - Folio 2v & 2r: Canon Tables

Folio 2v shows the resurrection of Jesus Christ through elaborate symbolism. Animals play a big part in this symbolism, with Christ’s resurrection and immortality depicted by intricate illustrations of lions, snakes, and peacocks. In this folio, Jesus Christ grips the extended tongue of a lion on either side of him. The scene is thought to represent the Crucifixion, when Jesus hung on a cross between two thieves. The three yellow crosses that feature on Christ’s halo are also symbolic of the Crucifixion. Since snakes shed their skin to renew themselves, they are a fitting symbol for Christ's resurrection and are widely used across the Book of Kells.  Peacocks are integral to the decoration in most of the major pages in the Book of Kells.  They are thought to represent Christ's immortality, due to the ancient belief that peacock flesh does not decay.  

Folio 2r contains passages from all four Gospels and is one of the Eusebian Canons, a system devised to help readers naviage among the Gospels. 

Source: "Stunning Easter Symbolism in the Book of Kells." Trinity College Dublin, 4 Apr. 2019, and

The Book of Kells - Facsimile Editions & Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts (Video from Trinity College)

A Multidisciplinary Analysis of The Book of Kells by Iona University Faculty (Video)

It was on the Isle of Iona that the illuminated Gospel manuscript, the Book of Kells, was produced through the labor of monastic scribes and artists. Iona University is the proud beneficiary of a rare facsimile of the Book of Kells. Iona University faculty colleagues from five different disciplines collaborated to analyze this famous manuscript through the lens of their diverse academic areas. Together, they produced this video. This project weaves together the scholarship of: Dr. Christina Andruk, Biology and Environmental Studies; Dr. Christina Carlson, English; Sr. Kathleen Deignan, Sr. Kathleen Deignan Institute of Earth and Spirit; Dr. Kathleen Kristian, Chemistry; Prof. Tom Ruggio, Fine Arts; and Dr. Daniel Thiery, History. Supporters of this initiative included: the Council on the Arts, the Office of Mission and Ministry, Ryan Library, and the Sr. Deignan Institute. Mr. Ian Limbaga served as the videographer for this project.

Symbolism in The Book of Kells (Video)