The Book of Kells: Chi/Rho

Catholic Poetry Room

This week’s poem in the Catholic Poetry Room is by Barbara Crooker.                                                                                                                                       

The Book of Kells: Chi/Rho

With quills and ink of iron gall on folded vellum,
monks in their cells labored in hives of stone,
producing pages that glistened like honey,
sweetening the word of God. On this page, the chi
commands the eye, its arm swooping to the left
in an elegant scrawl, the smaller rho and iota
nestled to the right. Knotwork fills each letter
to the brim. Three angels fly from the crossed
arms, heaven and earth intertwined, coiled spirals
connected by curves. Despite the gleam, no gold
is used, just layers of color built up like enamel.
In the interstices, creatures of air: birds and moths;
creatures of sea: fish and otters; creatures of land:
cats and mice. For the whole world was holy,
not just parts of it. The world was the Book of God.
The alphabet shimmered and buzzed with beauty.

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels, created in around 800 AD. The Chi/Rho page consists of the Greek letters chi and rho that were used in medieval times to abbreviate the word “Christ.”


Barbara Crooker‘s work has appeared in many journals, including The Christian Century, Christianity & Literature, The Christian Science Monitor, America, Sojourners, Saint Katherine Review, Windhover, Perspectives, The Cresset, Tiferet, Spiritus,Assisi, Dappled Things, Ruminate, Rock & Sling, Radix, and Relief,    It’s been anthologized in places like The Bedford Introduction to Literature (Bedford/St. Martin’s), Imago Dei:  Poems from Christianity and Literature (Abilene Christian University Press),  Looking for God in All the Right Places (Loyola Press), and Summer: A Spiritual Biography of the Season and Spring:  A Spiritual Biography of the Season (SkyLights Paths Publishers).  Her books are: Radiance (Word Press, 2005),  winner of the 2005 Word Press Poetry prize and Finalist for The Paterson Poetry Prize, 2006;  Line Dance (Word Press, 2008), winner of the 2009 Paterson Poetry Prize for Literary Excellence; More (C&R Press, 2010); Gold (Cascade Press, a division of Wipf and Stock, in their Poeima Poetry Series, 2013); Small Rain (Purple Flag, a division of Virtual Artists Collective, 2014); Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems (FutureCycle Press, 2015); Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017); The Book of Kells (Cascade Press, Poeima Poetry Series, 2018); and Some Glad Morning, forthcoming in the Pitt Poetry Series (University of Pittsburgh Poetry Press), fall 2019.


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