Shrine In Word

The great Incarnation page of the Book of Kells. The Chi-ro page. Greek for of Christ. A great sweeping X, and the r, shaped like a p, tucked and curled in under. Word became flesh. Flesh holy. The divine entered nature. All nature in kinship with the divine.

When you look at reproductions of that page, it is easy to forget how small the original is, and how amazing the detail and intricacy of it. You need to look at it with a jeweller’s eye-glass truly to see the richness and facets of life within its reddish gold. How many spirals, how many triskeles, how many circles? A majestic serenity. Yet a great and marvellous movement of being: contractions and impetus to the right of the page, each spiral spinning and impelling to the narrow neck of the right hand reaches of the great X : a birth, an ejection, a release, a full flowering, set loose off the page altogether. Yet not a generalised pattern: here is a pair of moths, there an otter, sleek and black, poised over an invisible water, curved between two elements, its hind legs on the bank, its head and front paws watergoing, in its mouth a long fish. An odd set of creatures around an invisible manger. Nature in praise of the God become creature. Moths at rest, twelve birds, serpents and human heads. And a cat with kittens, or with rats, in a curious game with the Communion bread. Word made flesh. This is my body.

And they say, those who have studied such things, that beyond the play and humour of the creatures is a serious cosmic symbolism. The lozenge shape of the moths is an early Christian symbol for Christ; the fish likewise. Icthus. Greek for fish. Jesus. Creation sings, creation welcomes, creation accommodates, creation incorporates. Jesus. Word becomes flesh.