The Robed man looked up from his work and out the narrow opening in the rock wall at the darkening sky. He thought of the message that had brought news of the deaths of more of his Christian brothers. He imagined the sea outside with a flood of dragon-ships, spewing forth hordes of godless, wrathful barbarians. They quickly breached the feeble defenses of his monastery, slaughtering and destroying as they advanced. Soon the door to his cell would crash open, and then.… The monk shuddered with fear, but not for his own life. He looked lovingly down at the page upon which he was preserving the Word of God. The lone letter he had almost completed today filled half the parchment. Pride was a sin, he knew, but he found it was one he could not avoid as he admired the brilliant colors and intricate details he had painstakingly woven into this one joyous cipher. Surely, God would protect His Word and not allow it to be defiled by the savages, nor would it be buried deep in the bog, safe but perhaps never to be seen by the eye of man.

No, he refused to fear. He wrote in the margin in small, fine letters, “The wind is rough tonight, tossing the white hair of the ocean; I do not fear the fierce Vikings, coursing the Irish Sea.”

No one knows if this particular monk was justified in his faith. The tenth-century manuscript was completed and now is safe in the St. Gaul Library of Switzerland, but whether the Vikings eventually destroyed the monastery is uncertain.

The Viking onslaught marked the end of a most glorious artistic period in Ireland, its “Golden Age.” Among the silver and gold chalices, the jeweled brooches, the shining, twisted torcs, and the elaborate shrines, some of the most striking examples of Irish art are the manuscripts, ...

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