Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Chi Rho monogram from the Book of Kells

The Chi Rho monogram

Chi Rho – Two Letters of the Greek Alphabet

The Chi Rho monogram 4
Chi and Rho are two letters of the Greek alphabet wherein the first two letters of `Christ’, “Chi” gives a hard Ch sound while Rho is a R. Chi is written as an X while Rho is roughly written as a P. The Chi Rho is considered to be one of the earliest forms of christogram used by some Christian and is formed by superimposing the first two capital letters Chi and Rho – XP of the Greek work ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ – Christ in a way to produce the monogram.

Though not a Christian cross technically, the Chi Rho refers the crucifixion of Jesus and symbolises status as Christ. The symbol was also used by pagan Greeks which was inscribed to mark a particular valuable or relevant passage in the margin, wherein the combine letters Chi and Rho stand for chreston which means good.

 There are some coins of Ptolemy II Euergets which are marked with a Chi Rho. The symbols of Chi-Rho was used by the Roman emperor Constantine as military standard and Constantine’s standard was known as the Labarum while the early symbols similar to the Chi Rho were Staurogram ( ) and the IX monogram.

Book of Kells – An Illuminated Manuscript Gospel Book

The Chi Rho monogram 1
The Book of Kells also known as the Book of Columba is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book which is in Latin and contains the four Gospel of the New Testament along with a variety of prefatory text as well as tables which was created in a Columban monastery, either in Ireland or Britain or it could have had contributions from several Columban institutions from Ireland and Britain.

It is presumed to have been created around 800 AD and the text of the Gospels seems to be drawn from the Vulgate though it includes many passages from the earlier versions of the Bible called the Vetus Latina.

It was designed as a treasure and a wonder. An old chronicle called it the chief relic of the Western world. It represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination and is a masterwork of Western calligraphy. Since 1953, it has been bound in four volumes and as of date, the manuscript consists of 340 folios while the leaves are of high quality calf vellum and the elaborate ornamentation which covers them include ten full page illustrations with text pages that are vibrant with decorated initials.

Chi Rho Displayed at Trinity College Library, Dublin 

The Chi Rho monogram 2
The interlinear are miniatures which mark the extension of the anti-classical as well as energetic qualities of Insular art. The Insular majuscule script of the text seems to be the work of at least three different scribes while the lettering is in iron gall ink, the colour used were derived from a wide range of substance which were imported from distant lands.

The name of the manuscript is taken from the Abbey of Kells that was its home for centuries and presently is on permanent display at the Trinity College Library, at Dublin. The Library displays two of the present four volumes at a time where one shows a major illustration while the other shows typical text pages and the complete manuscript can be seen on the Library’s Digital Collections.

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