It’s become a rare thing for me to sit down to watch a movie anymore. It just seems like there is always something else to do. Even though I’ll sometimes have the news or a show playing when I draw, usually that is just background noise. But I recently watched an animated movie that actually captured my full attention called “The Secret of Kells“.
The story is set within the Abbey of Kells around the ninth century, and starts with monks who would copy the bible by hand in order to spread God’s good word through Ireland. The monks have been forced to abandon their work in order to fortify the abbey’s walls, partly because they live in fear of the natural world that surrounds them, but also because the abbey is under a constant threat from invading vikings. In the mean time a young boy named Brendan, who is being raised by the monks, starts to make his own copy of the bible. Even though he is forbidden, Brendan sneaks into the surrounding forest in order to find some berries that will allow him to make an ink for his book, and he learns to love nature. Eventually, the vikings break down the abbey walls, and Brendan flees Ireland and becomes a Master Illuminator. Brendan eventually returns with his masterpiece, the Book of Kells.
This period of time in Catholic and Christian history is fascinating to me because of the way pagan and Christian ideas weave together and spread through Europe. It’s also interesting to me because, even though most medieval Europeans couldn’t read and only a very few people owned their own copy of the bible, the artwork that the monks made helped the congregation relate to bible stories. It is amazing how much work must have gone into reproducing each copy since, before the printing-press was invented, each bible had to be drawn and lettered by hand. Of course, the illustrations from this time might be a little more stylized than what we are used to seeing today, but this is another thing I love about the movie. The animation and art match up perfectly with that medieval look. This is a beautiful movie.
I was reminded of the Book of Kells once again when I met Matthew Stevens, a Black Chandelier artist who created a fabric pattern that was a blend of an art deco style and images/pages from the Book of Kells. What a damn cool idea!