The Book of Durrow contains the four Gospels, each of which is preceded by carpet pages and the evangelist symbols. The opening words of each Gospel are written in colours and adorned with geometric decorations. The manuscript’s sources and inspiration stretch from Ireland to Anglo-Saxon England and from Pictland (in present-day Scotland) to the Mediterranean.
The date and origin of the Book of Durrow have aroused considerable debate. It has sometimes been dated c. 680 and assigned to Northumbria in the belief that it is the earliest of the fully decorated Insular Gospel manuscripts. If so, it must pre-date, but form a sequence with, the Lindisfarne Gospels. Similarities between the Book of Durrow and objects found with the Sutton Hoo ship burial might be taken to confirm an attribution to Northumbria. In turn, research on comparative manuscripts, such as the Calendar of Willibrord , suggests that the Book of Durrow could have been made as late as the 8th century.
Similarities between the artwork in the Book of Durrow and Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship testify to the wide distribution and longevity of Anglo-Saxon metalwork, rather than prove that the Book of Durrow was made in what is now England. There has been a gradual return to the traditional view that this gospel-book was produced in the monastery of Durrow, Co. Offaly, founded by Colum Cille (c. 521–597), or that it reached there from Iona, perhaps via Kells, Co. Meath. Kells is only forty miles from Durrow, and the texts of the Book of Kells are close to those of Durrow.
At Durrow, the book was considered to be a relic and it was placed in a shrine by Flann Sinna Mac Máel Sechnaill, King of Ireland (879–916). This caused considerable damage, leading to the book’s later breakdown into single leaves.