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How the Vikings Failed to Destroy a Treasure

How the Vikings Failed to Destroy a Treasure

The Vikings had no mercy.

In the year 806, Viking invaders descended on the Island of Iona, just off the coast of Scotland, and they slaughtered 68 monks. That’s why the area became known as the Bay of Martyrs.

However, those raids are the reason Ireland now has one of the most famous Bibles in all of history—the Book of Kells. After the raid on Iona, the monks fled to Kells in Ireland, where they established a new monastery. And this monastery housed and protected the magnificent Book of Kells.

When my wife and I went to Dublin, Ireland, one of my greatest thrills was visiting Trinity College, where we got to see portions of the Book of Kells. This book is the most famous example of an “illuminated Bible.” They’re called “illuminated” because they are heavily decorated with images and exquisite letters, lavishly colored with glittering pigments, such as gold and silver.

My wife, Nancy, and I pose with our delightful tour guide at Trinity College. The guide allowed me to wear his traditional student gown.

The Book of Kells is actually a partial Bible. It consists of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—written on vellum, or specially treated calfskin. We don’t know exactly when the Book of Kells was created, but it was probably around 800 A.D. The most famous page of the book depicts a highly stylized “Chi Ro” symbol, which consists of the first two letters of the word “Christ” in Greek—those letters being X and P.

We weren’t allowed to take photos in the Book of Kells exhibit, but just outside the exhibit we entered the beautiful Long Room in the Old Library of Trinity College in Dublin.

The Vikings continued to raid and plunder Ireland, but somehow the Book of Kells survived the centuries. Even in modern days, “raiders” of a different sort have threatened the Book of Kells. In 1969, a thief attempted to steal the book from Trinity College. But, unable to steal the famous Bible, he stole the Brian Boru harp instead and demanded a ransom of 20,000 pounds. (The harp is the symbol of Ireland, and that particular harp dates back to the 15th century. It was eventually recovered.)

So, through Viking raids, attempted thefts, careless caretakers, and the wear and tear of time and weather, the Book of Kells survives—a symbol of the lasting and illuminating power of God’s Word.

“Illuminate” carries multiple meanings. It can mean to shine forth, but it can also mean to understand. Both meanings find a home in the Gospels, which illuminate the life of Jesus—the Living Word. Jesus is like the words that you find in an illuminated Bible. He jumps off the pages of history, like golden script on a manuscript. His light illuminates our minds, our hearts, our spirits, and our lives.

As Ephesians 5:8-14 says: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”

If we allow Him, Jesus the Christ—the Chi Rho—will shine in our lives like the morning Sun coming through our window in the morning, and He will wake us from our slumber. What’s more, no Viking or thief or modern-day skeptic can stop Him from illuminating our lives.

History by the Slice Family Activity

Read Ephesians 5:8-14, and then answer these questions.

  1. What does it mean to be a child of the light?
  2. What does the passage mean when it says, “Everything that is illuminated becomes a light?”
  3. What is your favorite copy of the Bible? Why
  4. How often do you read the Bible? Would you like to increase your amount of Bible reading time? If so, what can you do?
  5. What is your favorite book of the Bible? Why?
  6. What is your favorite story in the Bible? Why?
  7. How does the Bible change your life?

Feature Photo: The famous Chi Rho page from the Book of Kells.

By: Doug Peterson has written 42 books for VeggieTales and is the author of four historical novels: The Disappearing Man, The Puzzle People, The Vanishing Woman, and The Lincoln League. Visit Doug at

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One Comment

  1. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing your adventures! I never heard of the Book of Kells before.

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