One summer’s day in Tipperary as peat was being dug from a bog, a button peered out from the freshly cut earth. The find set off a five-year journey of conservation to retrieve and preserve what lay beyond: a 1,200-year-old psalm book in its original cover.
Bogs across Europe have thrown up all sorts of relics of the ancient past, from naturally preserved bodies to vessels containing butter more than a millennium old, but the 2006 discovery of an entire early medieval manuscript, entombed in a wet time capsule for so long, was unprecedented, said the National Museum of Ireland.
The book fell open upon discovery to reveal the Latin words in ualle lacrimarum (in the valley of tears), which identified it as a book of psalms. One particularly unexpected feature was the vegetable-tanned leather cover with a papyrus reed lining, suggesting the monks could have had trade links with Egypt.
“It still blows me away,” said John Gillis, the chief manuscript conservationist at Trinity College Dublin, home of the Book of Kells, the Book of Armagh and 450 other medieval Latin manuscripts. “It was by far and away the most challenging, most interesting project I have ever undertaken – and to put that in context, I am surrounded by these iconic manuscripts.”
Etc. Enjoy a fascinating tale.