Book of Deer goes on display at Aberdeen Art Gallery

Book of Deer goes on display at Aberdeen Art Gallery

The Book of Deer, a 10th-century text, has returned to the North East after hundreds of years. Aberdeen Art Gallery will display the rare pocket gospel which is on loan from Cambridge University Library.

There are several inspiring illustrations in the Book, including formal full- and half-page representations of the authors of the four gospels. Later additions in the margins show human figures, animals, birds and shapes. The unknown writer has appealed directly to the reader at the end of the book. “Let anyone who reads this book pray for the soul of the wretch who wrote it.”

There is a remarkable cultural importance to the Book of Deer in Scotland, especially in the North East. It is the earliest surviving Scottish manuscript. The author wrote the text primarily in Latin between 850 and 1000.

Oldest example of written Gaelic

It is the Book’s Gaelic notes which are truly remarkable. The additions dating from the 1100s are the oldest known surviving examples of written Gaelic. The monasteries at Deer and Pitfour in Aberdeenshire are mentioned, as well as other places like Ellon and Pitfour in Angus. They tell how St Columba and his follower Drostan travelled to the area from Iona and were given the land by a local leader after his son recovered from a serious illness thanks to Columba’s prayers. Columba gave the land to Drostan to found a church. An archaeological dig is underway, as part of the Book of Deer Project 2022, to find the site of the early medieval monastery.

The Book of Deer | Reproduced by permission of Syndics of Cambridge University Library

As well as the Book of Deer, Aberdeen Art Gallery will display four medieval Aberdeen Burgh Register volumes that also contain illustrations. Aberdeen’s civic archive has been running continuously since 1398, making it the oldest and most complete in Scotland. The archive also contains the earliest eight volumes dating from 1398 to 1511. They are recognised as being of outstanding historical significance to the nation by UNESCO.

The exhibition is part of a wider programme in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire delivered by The Book of Deer Project and its partners. The National Lottery Heritage Fund has supported the exhibition to celebrate the Book of Deer’s temporary return. It includes talks and tours, storytelling, creative writing, illustration and textile workshops, family trails. There will also be a special Gallery Late event at Aberdeen Art Gallery on 30 September which invites revellers to ‘party like it’s 1399!’

Splendid little book

The Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Councillor David Cameron, said: “I congratulate all the partners who have worked together to bring the Book of Deer ‘home’ to the North East for the first time in hundreds of years. There can be no doubt that the ‘splendid little book’ is one of Scotland’s greatest treasures.

He also added, “Visitors to the Art Gallery will have a rare opportunity to see it up close, as well as the chance to learn more about its significance and what it can tell us about this fascinating period in Scotland’s history through the associated programme of talk and activities.

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.”

The Book of Deer will be on display at Aberdeen Art Gallery from 9 July until 2 October. Admission Free.

About POST

Kevin Mitchell and Chris Sansbury founded POST. This was from a desire to cut through the noise to share the great things that happen in Aberdeen. They focus on community, culture and also the interesting people of the city. The local artists, businesses and charities; photographers, musicians and entertainers. These are the people that make a positive impact on our city every day. So they use video, audio, writing and social media to amplify the voices in our community. And to ultimately give a platform to Aberdeen folk to engage and tell their own stories.

Recent work includes coverage of Spectra 2023, interviews with We Are Here Scotland founder Ica Headlam; Paralympic gold medalist, Neil Fachie; Aberdeen rapper Chef and his push for success; an article about the pedestrianisation of Union Street; coverage of Nuart Aberdeen and TEDx Aberdeen, as well as coverage of the campaign to Save the Belmont.

We are independent and entirely self funded. We just about cover our costs, but if you would like to help support our work, you could buy us a coffee.