Building on Belief

The Use of Sacred Geometry and Number Theory in the Book of Kells, f. 33r

Megan M. Hitchens


 In the last few decades there has been an increasing interest in the construction of design pages in Insular manuscripts from the seventh to the ninth centuries. Most interest has been focussed on the Lindisfarne Gospels, with Janet Backhouse drawing attention to construction marks on the reverse of some pages in the manuscript, notably ff 26v, 94v and 211v[ i ], while several other pages have been analysed by Jacques Guilmain and Inga Christine Swenson, the latter concentrating on symmetry[ ii ]. There has also appeared a new emphasis on the geometry of page design, resulting in a better understanding of the methods used. The bulk of the work in this area has been carried out by the mathematician, Robert Stevick. Using visible marks on the front and reverse of pages, Stevick has attempted to duplicate geometric construction methods employed by the scribes. To this end, he has examined pages in the St GalIen Gospels Book, the cross-carpet pages in the Lindisfarne and Lichfield Gospels, and the Evangelist pages in the Book of Durrow and the Echternach Gospels. [ iii ]

However, all of these scholars have been wholly concerned with the physical appearance of the page. None has addressed the question of why the Insular scribes employed such geometric methods, which are in some places extremely complex, nor have they looked at the meanings and messages implied by the use of geometry and the numbers associated with this art. As these manuscripts are all gospels books and were produced in monastic environments, it seems reasonable to assume that such constructions were underpinned by theological considerations. The aim of this paper is to discuss the possible theological influences on Insular cross-carpet page design, with particular attention to f. 33r in Dublin, Trinity College MS 58, the Book of Kells (see Fig. 1). The relationship between this page, with its geometric design, and number theory of the period will be examined.


Fig 1: Trinity College Dublin MS 58 (the Book of Kells) f. 33r


Geometry reached the West through the writings of Plato and the Pythagoreans. In the Republic, Plato writes that 'what (geometers) really seek is to get sight of those realities which can be seen only by the mind’.[ iv ] For the followers of Pythagoras, number and geometric form were not merely related but direct equivalents. Pythagorean writings linked geometry and number theory, and assigned them cosmological meanings. For instance, the number one (the perfect number) and the circle (the perfect shape) both represent the Creator, while manifestation is symbolised by three and the triangle.[ v ]

The Church Fathers adapted the meanings associated with number to meet their own spiritual requirements. Origen (184-254 AD) wrote that ‘God made the world according to some definite number, predetermined by himself’. [ vi ] Philo of Alexandria, writing in the first century, stressed the importance of the numbers six and seven in the account of the world’s creation as told in Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 [ vii ] The world was made in seven days, signifying, according to Augustine, the seven ages of the world and the subsequent perfection of the number seven. [ viii ] The numbers used in the measurements of Noah's Ark, the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of Solomon were all considered significant by the Church Fathers, particularly those numbers which appeared both in these contexts and in the events of Christ's life. Augustine, possibly the best known of the Church writers, fully analysed the story of Noah's Ark, relating not simply the Ark' s dimensions but number components of the entire story as well to Christ and to the New Testament covenant. His interpretation uses several procedures to find meaning, ranging from simple comparisons to a detailed manipulation of numbers. Examples of the simple approach are to be found in his statement that the members of Noah' s family number eight ‘because the hope of our resurrection has appeared in Christ, who rose from the dead on the eighth day, that is on the day after the seventh, or Sabbath day’, and in his comparison of the Ark’ s proportions with those of the human form, his aim being ‘to show that Christ appeared in a human body’. More complicated analyses involve breaking down numbers into their factors. So the length of the Ark, three hundred cubits, is expressed as six times fifty, ‘for in the fiftieth day after his resurrection, Christ sent his Spirit to enlarge the hearts of his disciples…[and] there are six periods in the history of this world’.[ ix ] Augustine sanctioned the use of pagan writers to illuminate Church doctrine, and frequently quoted the Bible to demonstrate God' s own use of numbers, [ x ] thus ensuring number symbolism a privileged position in Biblical studies. As Augustine wrote in The City of God:

We should not underestimate the significance of numbers, since in many passages of sacred scripture, numbers have a meaning for the conscientious interpreter. Not without reason has it been said to praise God: Thou hast ordered all things in measure, number, and weight. [ xi ]

 In their commentary on the Plan of the Carolingian monastery of St Gall, Horn and Born chose this passage to introduce their chapter on sacred numbers. [ [ xii ] The Plan, for the construction of a new monastery and surrounding buildings, was drawn in the early part of the ninth century,[ xiii ] making it roughly contemporary with the Book of Kells. [ xiv ]Throughout their analysis, Horn and Born point to the importance of numbers in ‘theological and secular thought’, concentrating particularly on the numbers three, four, seven, ten, twelve and forty. According to the authors, these numbers and the patterns they form recur many times within the Plan, demonstrating ‘the belief that the created world was held together by a divinely ordered system of numerical relationships.’ [ xv ]

 The sacred number theory on which the Plan is based came from the writings of the Church Fathers, [ xvi ]and there is abundant evidence that the Insular Church made use of many of these same works. [ xvii ]However, simply recognising that the Insular artists had access to sacred number theory, and that they made use of this science, does not answer the question of why an illuminator should have gone to such lengths in producing a single page of decoration in a gospels book. Geometry is a relatively simple means by which one may produce accurate angles and proportions. It can also he used to build up a pleasing and ordered design. However, the reasons for using geometry in Insular page design go beyond mere practicalities.

It is reasonable to assume that bibles and gospels books, as the Word of God, would be produced according to strict, scripturally-based guidelines. Unfortunately, there are no known scribes’ textbooks, no treatises on the spiritual justification of page construction, or other texts to reveal what these may have been. Rather, it is necessary to rely on a comparison between these pages, with their elaborate use of geometry and number, and Biblical passages referring to construction in a general sense, in order to understand the approach to their art taken by the Insular scribes.

There are numerous verses within the Bible, dealing with building and construction, which may be applied to page design. These fall into two categories. First, there are those that use the allegory of buildings and foundations in dealing with spiritual development. The second category speaks of Christ as the stone, rejected by the builders, which is to become the corner-stone of the entire work.

The first category includes such verses as Matthew 7:24-27. [ xviii ] This is the parable of the wise man who built his house upon rock and the foolish man who built his house upon sand. It was only the house on the firm foundation that survived. The wise man is compared to the person who hears God’s word and acts upon it, and the foolish to the person who hears but does nothing. The association of building with wisdom, found in this passage, is already present in the Old Testament:

If the Lord does not build the house, the work of the builders is useless. (Psalm 127:1)

 As can be seen in Augustine’s interpretation of Noah’s Ark, passages in the Old Testament that can be read as references or parallels to Christ’s life are deemed to be of great importance. They are used to reinforce the New Testament message. This occurs with the second category of texts, those referring to the rejected corner-stone:

The stone which the builders rejected has become the main comer- stone. (Psalm 118:22; also quoted in Matthew 21:42, Luke 20:17 and Mark 12:10)

I am laying in Zion a chosen corner-stone of great worth. Whoever has faith in it will not be put to shame. (Isaiah 28:16)

This Jesus is the stone, rejected by you the builders, which has become the corner-stone. (Acts 4:11)

 Here, Christ is clearly identified as the corner-stone.

 Several passages contain the two notions of building the soul and of having Christ as an integral part of any structure, be it physical or spiritual:

You also, as living stones, must be built up into a spiritual temple ... the living stone... chosen by God and of great worth to him. (1 Peter 2:5)
  1. You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the comer-stone.
  2. In him the whole building is bonded together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
  3. In him you also are being built with all the others into a spiritual dwelling for God. (Ephesians 2:20-22)

These passages contain implicit instructions addressed to scribe-illuminators: if they are to follow God’ s directives, then they too must ensure that Christ is the comer-stone of their design’s foundation.

The idea of spiritual foundations and spiritual building materials is expanded upon by the Church Fathers, and is linked by them to sacred numerology, and therefore to geometry. If the scribe is to use such verses as guidelines, then the foundations and the ‘building materials’, that is, the lines and components of the design, must have a strong scriptural base. The work must be carried out according to God’ s instruction, and this can be achieved through the use of symbolic numbers and geometry, with the Bible and the Church Fathers providing guidance.

As stated above, Origen believed that God constructed the world according to a number of His choosing. The significance of numbers in the Creation story was a point of great interest for writers in the early Church. According to Wisdom 11:21, ‘God has arranged all things in number, sequence and proportion.’ This statement is reinforced in other parts of the Bible. In Genesis 6: 15-16, for instance, God specifies to Noah not only the measurements of the Ark (three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high), but also the dimensions of the only window (one cubit square). Exodus chapters 25-28 are devoted to the building of the principal holy objects of the exiled Israelites. The directions for construction come directly from God and are carefully laid out in number and proportion. Exodus 25: 10, 17 and 23 contain the measurements for the Ark of the Covenant, a mercy seat and a table. The remainder of the section dictates precisely how many lamps, bowls, rings, curtains and other accoutrements are to accompany and cover the Ark, and also gives the dimensions and numbers associated with the decorations for an altar. The specifications for the Temple of Solomon are given in 1 Kings 6-8, and again the required numbers associated with each of the decorations, pillars and so on are given. These instructions are all precisely laid down by God, thus giving number the ultimate stamp of authority- The relationship between buildings and number persists throughout the Bible, up to the last book, Revelation, where God’ s own city is described. Here, an angel gives John a rod and tells him to measure the temple, the altar and the court outside. Later, another angel with a measuring rod approaches him and measures the city, the gates and the walls.[ xix ] Number is clearly given an important place in descriptions of God’s realm.

If, as the Pythagoreans wrote, number and geometry equate with each other at the level of spiritual meaning, then, in constructing pages using geometric methods, the Insular scribes are following the instructions of the Bible and of the Church Fathers, and therefore of God. They are literally creating spiritual building blocks through the application of the sacred arts of geometry and number. As will be demonstrated, the Insular scribes were able, through the application of such methods, to build upon ‘the stone which the builders rejected’.

 The analysis of numbers in Biblical passages and exegetical readings requires the use of allegory. The most popular school of exegesis in the medieval church was the Alexandrine or allegorical school, and Kathleen Hughes points to evidence in Irish writings that this was also the favoured form of exegetical work in the Irish Church.[ xx ] Philo also provides us with a link between building and allegory, saying that allegory is ‘a wise architect who directs the superstructure built upon a literal foundation’. [ xxi ]

According to Augustine, ‘the most hidden meanings are the sweetest’. [ xxii ] This may be seen to apply, not only to the literal foundation of allegory, but also to numbers and geometry which carry allegorical meaning in Insular design pages. Just as the different types of physical building foundations are apparent to builders but hidden from those unacquainted with the art, so the geometry and associated number theory used in Insular design pages also lie hidden from the lay person but are apparent to the educated scribe or scholar. Geometry and number act, therefore, in the same way as the foundation of a building, as they provide a firm base and to a large extent dictate, not only the size of the illuminated portion of the page, but also the positioning of both major and minor decorative elements within it.

Each page in Insular manuscripts, whether for text, decoration or a mixture of the two, is thought to be based upon the same form: a square built from a cross and a circle (see Fig. 2). This is considered a ‘perfect’ form, as it ‘evolves from the circle and the cross, signs of perfection themselves’.[ xxiii ]

Fig 2: the squared circle


The required rectangle, whatever its proportions, is then constructed upon this basic design. [ xxiv ] The squared circle, being a shape from which numerous other geometric figures may easily be derived, was given special theological significance by the philosophers and geometers of the early Church. On the one hand, the circle was considered to represent God as it is the perfect shape and has no beginning and no end.[ xxv ] On the other, the square derived from this circle, equating with the four comers of the earth,[ xxvi ] was seen to be symbolic of the 'divine order pervading the created world'.[ xxvii ] All pages were therefore constructed, at their most basic level, upon God and the order He imposed upon the formless void, that is, in this case, upon the blank page.

The carpet page of the Book of Kells is set within a 4 x 3 rectangle. The proportions of this form, according to sacred geometry and Christian number theory, have their own significance beyond that of the squared circle. If a right-angle triangle is formed by diagonally bisecting a rectangle of these dimensions, then the hypotenuse of the triangle will necessarily have the measurement of five. The triangle created therefore contains the numbers three, four and five, all of which were important to the early Church writers. Three, according to Horn and Born, was regarded by the early Church as 'the holiest of all holy numbers'.[ xxviii ] Its relation to the Trinity is obvious. It also symbolises the 'passage between the transcendent [spiritual] and manifest [physical] realms',[ xxix ] that is, God's preparations to send his Son physically to earth. Four is the number that represents that actual manifestation. It is also a number of order and perfection,[ xxx ] and is well represented within the Bible. The four gospels, the basis of Christian belief, and their authors are represented by the four symbols of the Tetramorph, described in Ezekial 1: 10. The cross on which Christ was crucified and his body form four parts, 'the four extremities of the cross',[ xxxi ] so that four is a number strongly associated with the Crucifixion. That it is also the number of Christ's physical manifestation sets up an important link between the two events, his incarnation and his death. (This link is further emphasised in the Book of Kells, f 33r, as will be discussed below.) The number four features in Revelation, notably in the image of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse who will destroy the four comers of the world because, in a world returned to God, and therefore to the Circle, these corners will no longer be needed to define order.

Five, the number of the hypotenuse in a 4 x 3 triangle, is represented, in the Old Testament, by the Pentateuch, the five books of Jewish law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), and in the New, by the five wounds of Christ. The parallel set up between the Books of the Law and the wounds indicates the change brought about by Christ's suffering and the replacement of the old covenant with the new. Five also combines the numbers three and two, 'that is, faith in the Trinity and the twofold command to love God and one's neighhour',[ xxxii ] again indicating a shift in law. Furthermore, the number five in the triangle represents the world and its people, as three is considered to be a particularly masculine number, while two is particularly feminine.[ xxxiii ] The world is the place of manifestation (number three) and of promise (number two). Their representation in the number five, which therefore contains both the male and the female, indicates that they are for the benefit of all the world.

As a cross-carpet page, based on the form of the cross, Kells f 33r immediately calls to mind the death of Christ. This may be taken as a general statement for cross-carpet pages in Insular manuscripts. Crosses in such pages may be formed in a number of ways. For instance, in the cross page of the St Gallen Gospels Book,[ xxxiv ] it is made by the adjoining borders of four cells. The Book of Durrow cross-carpet page (f 85v) consists of fifteen medallions, fourteen of which are interlaced while the fifteenth, in the centre, contains a small cross. In spite of this, the cross is not the dominant feature in this page. The cross is again dominant, however, in the Lindisfarne Gospels. The five cross-carpet pages in this manuscript are formed in a variety of ways. F.210v is almost a photographic negative of the St Gallen page mentioned above, the cross being more clearly defined between the panels, with four 'crooked' crosses[ xxxv ] set within squares in the design. Both ff. 94v and 138v have crosses clearly built upon squares,[ xxxvi ] with four as the overt number of the design. In the first of these, f. 94v, a squared circle is the main component of the central design, and, unusually, is highlighted rather than remaining hidden. In the other two cross-carpet pages, ff. 2v and 26v, the cross is the dominant design element and does not rely on other forms, such as rectangles or circles, to define its shape. Each of these two crosses is made of six components, based in f 2v on squares and in f. 26v on circles. The cross-carpet page in the Lichfield Gospels[ xxxvii ] follows a similar model, having a cross consisting of six square components as its most important feature.

The use of six components in these last three pages carries particular significance. Six is a number with strong connections to the Crucifixion, because the event took place on the sixth day of the week and 'from the sixth hour there was darkness all over the land'.[ xxxviii ] Six is also the perfect number because 'God perfected the work in six days.[ xxxix ] Thus, as Christ is the perfect Son of God, he is typically associated with this number. The cross page on Kells f 33r also utilises six, but the overt number in its construction is eight. Through the shared emphasis placed on these two numbers, this page stands out amongst the other cross-carpet pages discussed above. For here, the cross is made of eight connected medallions which, with the borders, create six decorated areas, so that the number of the Crucifixion is incorporated into the design. At the same time, eight is the number of immortality and of salvation, 'a return to the original life... but made eternal'.[ xl ] It is the number of 'circumcision, baptism and resurrection [which are] mysteriously connected'.[ xli ] Therefore Genesis 17:10-14 stipulates that a male child shall be circumcised on the eighth day of his life as a mark of the eternal covenant between God and his chosen people; baptism represents a rebirth, 'newness of life',[ xlii ] and is a mark of the new covenant; and eight is also the number of the Resurrection as Christ rose on the eighth day, or the first day of the second week,[ xliii ] marking a return to the beginning but as eternal, again a form of rebirth. Unlike the perfect numbers six and seven, eight has a material aspect: circumcision and baptism are physical acts and Christ was physically resurrected.[ xliv ] Hence these three phenomena, and, by association, the number eight, sanctify rather than condemn the physical state. Each represents renewal or rebirth into a higher state of being, where one is not severed from God but brought into a closer union with him. However, in order for a rebirth to take place, there must first have been a death. It is this which is acknowledged, through the association of the numbers six and eight, within f 33r of the Book of Kells. The six decorative spaces in the page exist because of the eight medallions, while they in turn define the medallions, providing a visual demonstration of the relationship between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

The eight circles of the cross are founded upon a shape known as the vesica piscis and on the two circles from which this shape is formed. The two circles are drawn so that the centre of each is on the circumference of the other (see Figs 3a and 3b).

Fig 3a: the vesica piscis diagram
Fig 3b: The positioning of the eight circles of the cross over the vesica piscis

Throughout the mediaeval period Christ, and especially the risen Christ, is often represented within the vesica.[ xlv ] The entire diagram of the vesica is imbued with meaning. The vesica and the diagram of which it forms the focus, represent visually the results ensuing from the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Christ.[ xlvi ] The upper circle signifies God, the lower, Humanity, and the vesica, the shape created by the overlap of the two, represents Christ who physically, through his presence on earth, and spiritually, through his victory over death, brings God and Humanity together, enabling a new, closer relationship between the two. Thus the form demonstrates not only Christ's mystical nature, but also the physical and spiritual effects of his incarnation.

Kells f 33r further extends this range of meanings through its positioning within the gospels book as a whole.[ xlvii ] The eight-circle cross page is found just after Matthew 1: 17, that is, between Matthew's account of Christ's genealogy and his version of the Nativity story, beginning in 1: 18. It is the second of three fully illuminated pages. The first, on f 32v, shows Christ enthroned, while the third, which falls on f 34r, facing f 33v which has been left blank, is the 'Chi-Rho' page. These three consecutive pages give context to, and are in turn contextualised by, the surrounding readings. The genealogy emphasises Christ' s physical existence, while the story of the events preceding his birth tells of his physical incarnation and spiritual beginnings on earth, marking the child as special. Through the allusions in the second of these pages to Christ' s suffering and glorification, the sequence ensures that the story of Easter will be fully integrated into the celebrations surrounding Christmas.[ xlviii ] The reader is reminded that the Birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection are inextricably linked.

In using the vesica in Kells f 33r, the Insular illuminator is fulfilling scriptural directives. As the vesica symbolises Christ and is the underlying design element determining the position of the medallons, the artist is following the passages quoted above, from Psalm 118: 22, Matthew 21: 42, Luke 20: 17, Mark 12: 10, Acts 4: 11, 1 Peter 2: 4-8, and Ephesians 2: 20-22, building, in an entirely literal sense, on Christ as the corner-stone of their construction. Thus, the following passage too may be read as referring, quite literally, to the illuminator' s task:

10. God gave me the privilege of laying the foundation like a skiIled master builder; others put up the building. Let each take care how he builds.

11. There can be no other foundation than the one already laid: I mean Jesus Christ himself. (1 Corinthians 3: 10-1 1)

By utilising the vesica design, the Insular artist of Kells f 33r has made Christ the foundation of the design of the cross page. As the basis of the page, the Son of God is the reason for its form and existence. He is the spiritual made physical, and at the same time the mediator through whom physical human beings are able to become spiritual. In a similar way, the geometry and numbers used enable the spiritual to be expressed in a physical form, while transforming the same physical form, through symbolic associations, into a work of God, in accordance with the instructions laid down in the Bible.

Kells f. 33r demonstrates the sophistication of the mind of the Insular artist in using geometric form and the theory of number to convey and embed meaning. On the one hand, this cross page symbolises, through the use of numbers, the Trinity, the piritual-made-physical (Christ) and the physical-made-divine. On the other, through the use of the vesica, it has as its foundation the changed relationship between God and his Creation, brought about by the Son's physical manifestation, death and resurrection.

The illuminator has followed the directive of 1 Corinthians 3:11, building his foundation literally upon Christ.

That the scribes were fully aware of the associations between these passages and the design of their cross-carpet pages, here and elsewhere in their gospels books, cannot be proved. However, scriptural support played such a large role in so many areas that its application to manuscript production, as a general principle, cannot be dismissed. It is clear, however, that the term 'foundation' can be used in a spiritual as well as a physical sense. Therefore, as geometry was assigned theological meanings, it could be used for expressing religious ideas, allowing meaning to be conveyed through form as well as through written language. The key to understanding the cross-carpet pages, and possibly other pages in this and other manuscripts as well-such as, for instance, the Chi-Rho page following the cross-carpet page in the Book of Kells-may lie, then, in unlocking the symbolism of the geometric forms and numbers used in their construction.[ xlix ]

Megan M. Hitchens

Sydney, 1996


[ i ] Janet Backhouse, The L.indisfarne Gospels, Oxford, 1981, repr 1989, pp. 28-31.
[ ii ] Jacques Guilmain, ‘On the Layout and Ornamentation of the Cross-Carpet Page of the Lindisfarne Gospels, Folio 138v’, in Gesta 24.1 (1985), 13-18; and Inga Christine Swenson, ‘The Symmetry Potentials of the Ornamental Page of the Lindisfarne Gospels’, in Gesta 17.2 (1978), 9-18, 15-16.
[ iii ] Robert D. Stevick, .A Geometer’s Art: The Full-Page Illuminations in St Gallen Stiftsbibliothek Cod. Sang. 51, an Insular Gospels Book of the VIIIth Century’, in Scriptorium 44 (1990), 161-92; The 4 x 3 Crosses in the Lindisfarne and Lichfield Gospels’, in Gesta 25.2 (1986). 171-84; ‘The Design of Lindisfarne Gospels folio 138v’, in Gesta 22.1 (1983), 3-12; ‘The Shapes of the Book of Durrow Evangelist Symbol Pages’, in The Art Bulletin 68 (1986), 182-94; and ‘The Echternach Gospels’ Evangelist Symbol Pages: Forms from “The Two True Measures of Geometry” ’ in Peritia 5 (1986), 284-308.
[ iv ] Plato, The Republic, translated by Thomas Taylor, Minneapolis, 1975, VII, 510d-e, quoted in Robert Lawlor, Sacred Geometry: Philosophy and Practice, London, 1982, p. 9.
[ v ] Lawlor, ibid, pp. l2-13.
[ vi ] Origen, De principiis, translated by Frederick Crombie, The Writings of Origen, Edinburgh, 1869-72, II, 9, AN X, 127, quoted in Vincent F Hopper, Medieval Number Symbolism: Its Sources, Meanings and Influence on Thought and Expression, New York, 1938, repr 1969 (hereafter, Hopper), p. 74
[ vii ] Beryl Smalley, The Bible in the Middle Ages, Oxford, 1952, p. 5.
[ viii ] Augustine, City of God, in Marcus Dods (trans.), The Works of Aurelius Augustine, 15 vols, Edinburgh, 1871-76, I, XI, 30, p. 475 (Hopper, p. 78).
[ ix ] These examples are drawn from Augustine, Contra Faustum, XII, 14-15, in Dods, The Works of Aurelius Augustine, V, pp. 215-16 (Hopper, pps 80-81).
[ x ] Hopper, pp. 78- 79.
[ xi ] Augustine, City of God, XI, 3O, in Walter Horn and Ernest Born, The Plan of St Gall: A Study of the Architecture and Economy of and Life in a Paradigmatic Carolingian Monastery, 3 vols, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1979 (hereafter, Horn and Born), I, p. 118. The translation is based on The City of God, edited and translated by Walsh and Monahan, New York, 1952, ps 236.
[ xii ] Horn and Born, I, pp. 118-25.
[ xiii ] Ibid., p. xxi
[ xiv ] Francoise Henry, The Book of Kells: Reproductions from the Manuscript in Trinity College Dublin, London, 1974, repr. 1988, p. 151.
[ xv ] Horn and Born, I, p. 125.
[ xvi ] Loc. cit.
[ xvii ] Kathleen Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources, London, 1972, pp. 194-95. There is evidence of a healthy intellectual exchange, not only between the English Church and the Continent (see Betty Radice [ed.], Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources, London, 1983, p. 14), but also between the English and Irish Church (see Kathleen Hughes,  ‘Evidence for contacts between the churches of the Irish and English from the Synod of Whitby to the Viking Age’, in Peter Clemoes and Kathleen Hughes [eds], England Before the Conquest: Studies in primary sources, presented to Dorothy Whitelock, Cambridge, 1971, pp. 49-67, especially pp. 59-61). As Hughes writes in this article (p. 58):

Since there was frequent contact between Irish and English it is not surprising to find some similarity between the accepted ideas and expressions of both peoples.

This would also apply in a more limited, but still significant, sense to the Irish and Continental churches. The commonality of ideas would also have been fostered through the establishment of Irish monasteries on the Continent
[ xviii ] The Revised English Bible, Oxford, 1989. All further references will be to this edition.
[ xix ] Revelation 11:1 2 and 21: 15-21.
[ xx ] Kathleen Hughes, Early Christian Ireland, p. 198.
[ xxi ] Philo of Alexandria, quoted without reference in Smalley, The Bible in the Middle Ages, p. 5.
[ xxii ] Augustine, Contra Faustum, XII, 38, in Dods, The Works of Aurelius Augustine, V, p. 230 [Hopper, p. 80].
[ xxiii ] Stevick, ‘A Geometer’s Art’, p. 192.
[ xxiv ] Stevick has demonstrated, in several places, how the squared circle can be drawn using only a compass and straight-edge, tools known to be available to the ninth-century artist. See, for example, ‘The 4 x 3 Crosses’, p. 173.
[ xxv ] Lawlor, Sacred Geometry, p. 12s
[ xxvi ] Hopper, p. 8.
[ xxvii ] Horn and Born, I, p. 1 18s
[ xxviii ] Loc.cit.
[ xxix ] Lawlor, Sacred Geometry, p. 12.
[ xxx ] Christopher Butler, Number Symbolism, London, 1970, pp. 13 and 34.
[ xxxi ] Hopper, p. 84.
[ xxxii ] Annemarie Schimmel, The Mystery of Numbers, New York, 1993, p. 118.
[ xxxiii ] Butler, Number Symbolism, p. 34.
[ xxxiv ] Listed by Stevick as p. 6 in 'A Geometer's Art', p 181.
[ xxxv ] That is, 'swastikas'.
[ xxxvi ] F. 138v is not, however, as sYlmnetrical as it maY seem, as the anns of the cross are not equal despite their appearance to the contrary. The questions this poses with regard to construction are discussed by both Guilmain and Stevick in their articles examining the construction of this page (see above, nn. 2 and 3).
[ xxxvii ] This is listed as p. 220 in Backhouse, The Lindisfarne Gospels, p. 66.
[ xxxviii ] Matthew 27. 45.
[ xxxix ] Hopper, p. 98.
[ xl ] Ibid., p. 77
[ xli ] Schimmel, The Mystery of Numbers, p. 158.
[ xlii ] Romans 6: 4.
[ xliii ] Hopper, p. 77.
[ xliv ] .This is demonstrated in John 20:24-27, where Christ appears to the disciple Thomas, the 'doubter', and proves his physicality by allowing him to touch his wounds. [ xlv ] For example, in a marble relief at Saint-Semin, Toulouse; in an illumination from the Almesbury Psalter, Oxford, AII Souls College MS 6, f 6r. and in an illumination from the Carrow Psalter, Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery MS W 34, f 30v.
[ xlvi ] Lawlor, Sacred Geometry, pp. 33-35.
[ xlvii ] Suzanne Lewis, 'Sacred Calligraphy: The Chi-Rho Page in the Book of Kells', in Traditio 36 (1980), 139 59 (p. 141).
[ xlviii ] This is further reinforced by the use of the number four in the basic rectangle on which, as is seen above, the page is constructed.
[ xlix ] Acknowledgments to the Revs Roger Ellem and Roger Kemp for advice on Biblical passages and general theology, and to Michael Hitchens for advice on geometry and mathematics.


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Authored by Jehan, Giles, and Yseult AS XXXVIII (2003)