nonfiction nuggets…a monk who preserved books

Across a Dark and Wild Sea, written and illustrated by Don Brown, with calligraphy by Deborah Nadel

In the darkness of the middle ages, in a corner of northern Ireland, a boy was born into a line of princes, but forsook that heritage, devoting himself instead to the Church, and to endeavors of learning.  His name was Columcille. 

As a child, Columcille learned to read and write at monastery schools, and as a man, he established a number of monasteries in Ireland before setting off for Scotland where he preached to the Picts and was

the monastery at iona

largely responsible for the conversion of Western Scotland to Christianity from paganism.   At the same time, a monastery he established on the island of Iona was a marvelous, flourishing center of learning, where hundreds of books were lovingly, laboriously, hand-copied and translated.  In this way, Columcille and many other sober-minded monks of the middle ages preserved priceless literary treasures as well as shielding the spark of scholarship in the West until it was gradually re-kindled.

Across a Dark and Wild Sea tells the story of Columcille.  The story touches on his early life, describes an argument which erupted into a war over a book, and follows him to his life’s work in Scotland.  Besides this interesting account of a book-loving man, we get a nice peek at the process of preparing quill pens, inks and parchments in about the year 530.  The story is beautifully told, in clear, tight prose.  The illustrations are soft and handsome watercolors that reveal many intriguing aspects of medieval life.  The calligraphy which appears on several pages, is gorgeous, and a word at the end of the book explains the history of this particuar style of lettering.  An Author’s Note fills in quite a few details of Columcille’s history for older readers.

A very interesting person, a well-told story, handsomely illustrated — and about a time period and place which does not receive a lot of attention.  Very nice piece of work.

Here is an Amazon link:  Across a Dark and Wild Sea (Single Titles)