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Ireland's famed Book of Kells, the Western world's most beautiful illuminated manuscript, is also one of our greatest riddles. Now, thanks to a superb fine art facsimile edition, scholars and students at Texas Christian University and Austin College can study it from cover to cover in search of new answers. One copy of the expensive facsimile edition, valued at $18,000 per book and limited to 1,480 copies worldwide, was presented to Austin College in Sherman last night. Another goes to the Texas Christian University library in special ceremonies tonight. Since the Austin College copy arrived early (two days before St. Patrick's Day!), I have had the privilege of poring over this gorgeous and sacred book. As for the riddles of its origin, I began puzzling over those even before my first visit to Trinity College in Dublin to view the original in 1970. As best we can determine, the Book of Kells was copied by hand and illuminated by monks around the year 800 A.D. Although it was probably begun on the island of Iona, between Scotland and Ireland, its name is derived from the Abbey of Kells, in the Irish Midlands, where it was kept from at least the 9th century to 1541. One theory has it that portions of the book were made at Kells, after Viking raids on Iona forced the monastery to retreat to the more isolated location, is uncertain. The book consists of a Latin text of the four Gospels, calligraphed in ornate script and lavishly illustrated in as many as ten colors. Only two of its 680 pages are without color. Not intended for daily use or study, it was a sacred work of art to appear on the altar for very special occasions. Since 1661 the Book of Kells has been kept in the Library of Trinity College in Dublin. The fact that the preservation of medieval manuscripts requires strict conservation measures was not understood in the 19th century and the book suffered from more than the ravages of time. It suffered damage when it was improperly rebound in the 19th century. Not recognizing that some of the pages varied in size, the binder actually cut off some of the gorgeous illumination in order to standardize the size.