My whole body trembled with awe as I stood before it. The centuries old Book of Kells, arguably the most famous illuminated gospel in the world. An accompanying exhibit acquainted us with the painstaking process by which dedicated artists united precious pigments to vellum. It was the work of a lifetime. To create a setting worthy of the words. Of the Word.
Its magnificence gloriously conveys the sacredness...the otherness...of that which is contained within. And the beauty opens a place inside us for the words to rest.
Where are our twenty-first century illuminators?
Who is that artist capable of wedding the triumphs and tragedies of our age with the Story older than time?
Makoto Fujimura is an avant garde artist living at Ground Zero in New York. He contends daily with Kairos-Chronos tension, employing ancient Nihonga painting techniques to speak with a thoroughly modern voice. His passionate, complex, exhilarating works captivate both mind and soul.
He has, very possibly, created the illuminated masterwork of our time.
As I slide the clothbound book out of its elegant slipcover, my heart pounds. A glass case had separated me from the Book of Kells. But I hold this work of extraordinary loveliness in my own hands. I turn the pages slowly, luxuriously, drinking deeply.
The large scale frontispieces are glorious! Charis-Kairos focuses on the Tears of Christ "tears for the atrocities of the past century and for our present darkness." Each of the others is inspired by themes within the gospel. Read Mako's own introductions here.
Eighty-nine illuminated capitals begin the chapters. And each page contains gorgeous embellishments that illuminate the passage. As I read through The Four Holy Gospels, it is these that wreck me.
Some are representational and rather obvious: a fish, a serpent, a cluster of grapes. But most are subtle and leave space for you to bring your own creativity...your own story...to the page...
A splash of Nard as a woman pours herself out...
Brooding clouds...tinged with blood...over Gethsemane.
Intimations of water beside a storm tossed boat...or a baptism.
A sapphire sky flecked with gold, but with edges of a troubling gray, over Bethlehem.
Parables of the Kingdom laid against great swaths of gold.
The Passion, devastatingly conveyed with drops and smears of blood.
And finally, a tree of life...redeeming, restoring...making all things new.
If you have never encountered the story of Christ, you could find no better introduction than The Four Holy Gospels. Or if, like me, you cut your teeth on them, I assure you they are new here.
If you splurge on only one thing this year...if you treat yourself to one bit of beauty...let it be this book. There is no part of you that will not be nourished, cultivated, challenged, inspired.