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Kells, Abbey of


Former Irish abbey in present-day Kells, County Meath, Ireland, about 40 miles northwest of Dublin. In 807, after iona had been sacked three times by the Vikings, Cellach transferred the primacy of the Columban league of churches to Kells (Cenannas), a mainland foundation of columba of iona. However, the Vikings struck at Kells also, and its church (built c. 804) was destroyed. Another church (now called Colum Cille's, or Columba's, House) was built in 814. About 848 the Pictish King Kenneth mac Alpin seems to have tried to withdraw the churches in Scotland from the primacy of Kells, endeavoring to set up Dunkeld as the metropolis there. Kells was pillaged once again in 899 and five times in the 10th century. In the 12th century the primacy passed from Kells to Derry, and at Kells the Columban rule was replaced by that of the canons regular of st. augustine. The modern Protestant church in Kells occupies the site of the original monastic foundation, of which there remain five 10th-century irish crosses, a round tower, and St. Colum Cille's House. The Rolls of Chancery of Ireland, 31 Henry VIII, contain the instrument (dated Nov. 18, 1539) under which Kells was surrendered to the crown. The famous Book of Kells belonged to Kells, and on the blank spaces of this evangeliarium were copied certain charters of the abbey. These are of considerable interest and provide important information about the organization of one of the principal monastic churches at a period of decline, when the old order was being replaced by the new diocesan system. The Crozier of Kells is preserved in the British Museum.

Bibliography: m. archdall, Monasticon hibernicum (London 1786) 541548, complete but must be checked with later eds. of sources used. adamnan, The Life of St. Columba, ed. w. reeves (Dublin 1857) 387389. j. f. kenney, The Sources for the Early History of Ireland, v. 1, Ecclesiastical (New York 1929). 1:445, 753756, with a synopsis of the charters of the Book of Kells and bibliog. e. h. l. sexton, A Descriptive and Bibliographical List of Irish Figure Sculptures of the Early Christian Period (Portland, Maine 1947) 174191. e. sullivan, The Book of Kells (5th ed. New York 1952) 2022. h. g. leask, Irish Churches and Monastic Buildings, 3 v. (Dundalk, Ire. 195560) 1:3234. m. and l. de paor, Early Christian Ireland (2d ed. New York 1960).

[c. mcgrath]

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