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Cathach of St. Columba

Cathach of St. Columba

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The Cathach of St. Columba (Dublin, Royal Irish Academy
Royal Irish Academy
The Royal Irish Academy , based in Dublin, is an all-Ireland, independent, academic body that promotes study and excellence in the sciences, humanities and social sciences. It is one of Ireland's premier learned societies and cultural institutions and currently has around 420 Members, elected in...

, s. n.) is an late 6th century Irish
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 Psalter
Psalter
A psalter is a volume containing the Book of Psalms, often with other devotional material bound in as well, such as a liturgical calendar and litany of the Saints. Until the later medieval emergence of the book of hours, psalters were the books most widely owned by wealthy lay persons and were...

.

It is traditionally associated with St. Columba
Columba
Saint Columba —also known as Colum Cille , Colm Cille , Calum Cille and Kolban or Kolbjørn —was a Gaelic Irish missionary monk who propagated Christianity among the Picts during the Early Medieval Period...

 (died 597), and was identified as the copy made by him of a book loaned to him by St. Finnian
Finnian of Moville
Finnian of Movilla Abbey, Irish Christian missionary, 495–589.-Origins and life:Finnian was a Christian missionary who became a legendary figure in medieval Ireland. He should not to be confused with his namesake Finnian of Clonard...

, and which led to the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561. Paleographic evidence dates the manuscript
Manuscript
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

 to 560-600, or a little later, but that it was written by Columba is now doubted. The 58 folios in the damaged and incomplete vellum
Vellum
Vellum is mammal skin prepared for writing or printing on, to produce single pages, scrolls, codices or books. It is generally smooth and durable, although there are great variations depending on preparation, the quality of the skin and the type of animal used...

 manuscript contain the text of Psalms 30:10 to 105:13 in Latin (the Vulgate
Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

 version); the complete manuscript would have contained 110 folios. Rubrics written in Old Irish
Old Irish language
Old Irish is the name given to the oldest form of the Goidelic languages for which extensive written texts are extant. It was used from the 6th to the 10th centuries, by which time it had developed into Middle Irish....

 appear above the text of the Psalms. It may be the oldest known Irish manuscript and may contain the earliest examples of a written Goidelic language
Goidelic languages
The Goidelic languages or Gaelic languages are one of the two branches of the Insular Celtic languages, the other consisting of the Brythonic languages. Goidelic languages historically formed a dialect continuum stretching from the south of Ireland through the Isle of Man to the north of Scotland...

 apart from Ogham
Ogham
Ogham is an Early Medieval alphabet used primarily to write the Old Irish language, and occasionally the Brythonic language. Ogham is sometimes called the "Celtic Tree Alphabet", based on a High Medieval Bríatharogam tradition ascribing names of trees to the individual letters.There are roughly...

 inscriptions. The maximum folio size is 270 by 190 mm.

The decoration of the Cathach is limited to the initial letter of each Psalm. Each initial is in black ink and is larger than the main text. They are decorated with trumpet, spiral and guilloche patterns and are often outlined with orange dots. These patterns are not merely appended to the letters or used to fill spaces. They instead distort the shape of the letters themselves. The letters following the enlarged initials gradually reduce in size until they reach the same size as the main text. Although the motifs of the Cathach decoration are not similar to decorations in later manuscripts, such as the Book of Durrow
Book of Durrow
The Book of Durrow is a 7th-century illuminated manuscript gospel book in the Insular style. It was probably created between 650 and 700, in Northumbria in Northern England, where Lindisfarne or Durham would be the likely candidates, or on the island of Iona in the Scottish Inner Hebrides...

 (which followed the Cathach by as many as seventy years), the ideas of decoration which distorts the shape of the letters and the diminution of initial letters are ideas which are worked out in great detail in later Insular art
Insular art
Insular art, also known as Hiberno-Saxon art, is the style of art produced in the post-Roman history of Ireland and Great Britain. The term derives from insula, the Latin term for "island"; in this period Britain and Ireland shared a largely common style different from that of the rest of Europe...

.

History


An Cathach (meaning ‘the Battler’) was a very important relic used by the Clan Ó Domhnaill (O’Donnell Clan), the old Gaelic
Gaelic Ireland
Gaelic Ireland is the name given to the period when a Gaelic political order existed in Ireland. The order continued to exist after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans until about 1607 AD...

 royal family in Tír Chonaill (mainly modern County Donegal
County Donegal
County Donegal is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Border Region and is also located in the province of Ulster. It is named after the town of Donegal. Donegal County Council is the local authority for the county...

) in the west of Ulster
Ulster
Ulster is one of the four provinces of Ireland, located in the north of the island. In ancient Ireland, it was one of the fifths ruled by a "king of over-kings" . Following the Norman invasion of Ireland, the ancient kingdoms were shired into a number of counties for administrative and judicial...

. It was used as a rallying cry and protector in battle. It was said to protect and guarantee victory in war to the Donegal leaders. Before a battle it was customary for a chosen monk/holy man (usually attached to the McGroarty clan, and someone who was sinless) to wear the Cathach in its cumdach
Cumdach
A cumdach or book shrine is an elaborate ornamented box or case used as a reliquary to enshrine books regarded as relics of the saints who had used them in Early Medieval Ireland...

 around his neck and then walk three times around the troops of O’Donnell. It is the oldest surviving manuscript in Ireland, and the second oldest collection of the Psalms in the world. The name of the book derives from the Irish Gaelic word cath meaning ‘battle’. An Cathach means ‘the battler’. The hereditary protectors/keepers of An Cathach were the Mag Robhartaigh/McGroarty clan from Ballintra in south Donegal. An Cathach, the Battler, has been dated to around the period 590 to 600 AD. The decoration throughout An Cathach is limited to the initial letters of each psalm. An Cathach is now housed in the Royal Irish Academy (entrusted to them in 1842).

The manuscript was rediscovered in the cumdach in 1813, and given by its last hereditary keeper to the Royal Irish Academy in 1843. The leaves were stuck together until carefully separated at the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 in 1920; the manuscript was further restored in 1980-81.

The specially made cumdach
Cumdach
A cumdach or book shrine is an elaborate ornamented box or case used as a reliquary to enshrine books regarded as relics of the saints who had used them in Early Medieval Ireland...

 or book shrine is in the National Museum of Ireland
National Museum of Ireland
The National Museum of Ireland is the national museum in Ireland. It has three branches in Dublin and one in County Mayo, with a strong emphasis on Irish art, culture and natural history.-Archaeology:...

. The initial work on the case was done between 1072 and 1098 at Kells
Kells
Kells may refer to the following people:* Machine Gun Kelly , Cleveland Rapper/poet #LTFU #EST the movement.* R. Kelly, an American R&B musician...

, but a new main face was added in the 14th century with a large seated Christ in Majesty
Christ in Majesty
Christ in Majesty, or Christ in Glory, in Latin Majestas Domini, is the Western Christian image of Christ seated on a throne as ruler of the world, always seen frontally in the centre of the composition, and often flanked by other sacred figures, whose membership changes over time and according to...

 flanked by scenes of the Crucifixion and saints in gilt repoussé (NMI R2835, 25.1 cm wide).This was done by Cathbharr Ó Domhnaill, chief of the O'Donnells and Domhnall Mag Robhartaigh, the Abbot of Kells. The shrine cover consists of a brass box measuring 9 inches long, 8 inches wide and 2 inches thick. The top is heavily decorated with silver, crystals, pearls and other precious stones. It shows an image of the Crucifixion and an image of St Colm Cille.