Chi Rho Iota from the Book of Kells
Date ca. 800
Movement Early Medieval
Medium Ink and pigments on vellum
Dimensions 13 x 9.5″
Housed at Trinity College Library, Dublin
This work depicts Christ’s initials in Greek (XPI) before the recounting of the birth of Christ in the Book of Matthew. Though still intricate, strict geometric patterns loosen from those seen in the Cross of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Angels line the shaft of the X, and the P terminates in a head, thought to be Christ’s, while otters, cats and mice and butterflies are incorporated into the fine ornamentation detail. It is no surprise that its appearance likens so much to contemporaneous fine metal-ware, as both would have been used in liturgy.