Across a Dark and Wild Sea

In my review of The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane, I linked two books the author lists as further resources. One of them I hadn’t read was Across a Dark and Wild Sea by Don Brown. I have read it now.

This is the story of Columcille (koll-m-kill), an Irish monk who lived in the 500s A.D. Though he’s born during a time of darkness and general ignorance, he attends a monastery school and learns to read and write. He becomes a monk, a scribe, and a poet. In the Author’s Note, Brown says Columcille established monasteries at Derry, Durro, and Kells.

In 563, after an argument with another monk over the right to copy a rare book, a battle takes place between warring clans in which 3,000 men are killed. Perhaps as a result of this conflict, Columcille decides to sail to Scotland with twelve of his friends.

They found a monastery on Iona where they continue to copy books and train scribes.

Western Scotland was almost entirely converted to Christianity by Columcille; for this, the faithful calls him a saint: St. Columba (Columba being the Latinized version of his name).

The story is interesting, and the art does convey a sense of wildness and darkness. There is some information about how books were made at that time.

The illustration style doesn’t appeal to me, though, as striking as that of some of the other resources available for studying the making of manuscripts and illumination. My impression of the first page or two was that the people and the sheep look alike.

This book is a worthy read, but if you have to limit your choices on the subject, I would list Across a Dark and Wild Sea after Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson and The Sailor Who Captured the Sea: A Story of the Book of Kells by Deborah Nourse Lattimore.

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