Book of Deer on display in Scotland

Scotland’s oldest surviving manuscript goes on display at Aberdeen Art Gallery

For the first time in hundreds of years, the 10th-century Book of Deer has returned to the North East, where it may have originated.

The rare example of a pocket gospel will be on display at Aberdeen Art Gallery, on loan from Cambridge University Library. The exhibition is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The manuscript arrived at the UL in 1715 and contains the text of the gospels in Latin which has been dated to the first half of the tenth century. It was produced for private use rather than for church services. 

It contains the oldest surviving example of written Scots Gaelic in the world within its margins. At the start of each gospel text is a full-page illustration of a human figure or figures.

“The Book of Deer is of supreme cultural importance to Scotland generally, and to the North East of Scotland in particular. We are delighted to be a partner in this project, which offers an unparalleled opportunity to connect new audiences with heritage in an inspirational way that will leave a lasting legacy.”

Dr Jessica Gardner, University Librarian and Director of Library Services

The exhibition is part of a wider programme in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire delivered by The Book of Deer Project and its partners, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to celebrate the Book of Deer’s temporary return.

Anne Simpson, Chair of the Book of Deer Project, said: “The Book of Deer Project is delighted to realise its long-term ambition to have this precious wee book exhibited in the North East of Scotland where it can be seen by the many visitors to Aberdeen Art Gallery. It’s such an important part of Scotland’s history and culture, that’s perhaps not as well known as it should be. This exhibition provides an opportunity for it to be better known and appreciated.”

Caroline Clark, The National Lottery Heritage Fund Director for Scotland, said: " The Book of Deer may be a small book but it is a huge piece of history. Thanks to the marginalia it also has a very human and personal connection to a chapter in the story of Scotland from 1000 years ago. Those notes in the margins even let one individual speak to us, as readers, across the centuries. Thanks to National Lottery players, the Heritage Fund has been able to support this project to bring the Book back to the North East for public display. I have no doubt there will be of huge amount of interest in seeing this genuinely unique little book.” 

The National Lottery funding has enabled the temporary exhibition of the Book of Deer at Aberdeen Art Gallery, covering the costs of transport and display. The funding has also enabled a rich calendar of events this summer, and allowed further archaeological work to take place, as part of a wider programme in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire delivered by The Book of Deer Project and its partners, Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Cameron Archaeology, Cambridge University Library, Live Life Aberdeenshire and University of Aberdeen. Cambridge University Library has not charged a fee for the loan of the manuscript.

You can freely view the digitised Book of Deer in its entirety on the Cambridge Digital Library.

Adapted from a press release issued by Aberdeen Art Gallery