Irish Bog Book

I was fortunate to see the Fadden More Psalter when I was in Dublin last August. Uncovered in a peat bog in 2006, it’s an awesome discovery on so many levels.

Not because of its fabulous illumination, like the Book of Kells and other insular manuscripts. Not so much. When 1000 years in a peat bog you have, look as good you will not. But its the first major find of this sort in 200 years and the first in an archeological context.

The conservation was probably an interesting project, since the parchment of many leaves had been eaten away but not under the letters because of the ink’s acidity, leading to an odd alphabet soup.

The cover is as important, if not more, as the book itself, telling us for the first time what the outside of early Irish books would have looked and how they were kept. It looks like nothing so much as a 9th century Trapper-Keeper, the book sliding into the cover but not attached to it.

But the icing on the cake is the papyrus inside the front cover, suggesting a potential link between the early Irish church and Coptic Egypt. It’s not known how Christianity came to Ireland. There were enough Christians in Ireland by 410 AD that the Pope sent them a Bishop, Palladius. Saint Patrick gets the credit for converting Ireland but he has, alas, more PR than history on his side. The papyrus find makes one wonder if Coptic missionaries were the real source.