The Book of Deer – illuminated manuscript from Scotland

The Book of Deer

The Book of Deer

Did you know that Scotland has an illuminated manuscript?
The Book of Deer is a tenth century illuminated manuscript from North East Scotland. As the only pre-Norman manuscript from this area known as “former Pictland” it provides us with a unique insight into the early church, culture and society of this period. Amid the Latin text and the Celtic illuminations there can be found the oldest pieces of Gaelic writing to have survived from early Medieval Scotland.
The Book of Deer:

  • is illuminated in a style related to that used in the books of Dimma and Durrow.
  • by 1000 it was in the possession of the Monastery of Deer, a sixth century foundation at Old Deer in Aberdeenshire associated with Columba and his disciple Drostan.
  • in the twelfth century the Monks of Deer used the blank spaces and the margins in the book to record details of grants of land to the Monastery and its foundation legend. These “notitiae” are the earliest continuous examples of written Scots Gaelic.

The book’s importance in Scottish Literary History:

The Book of Deer is one of Scotland’s most important manuscripts. It is a small (154mm x 107mm) Gospel Book, now housed in Cambridge University Library. Before c. 1100 it was in the possession of the early Pictish monastery at Old Deer in north-east Aberdeenshire. This monastery has otherwise left no trace of its existence. A Cistercian Abbey was founded nearby in 1219. The Book of Deer came into the ownership of Cambridge University Library in 1715, when the library of the Bishop of Ely and Norwich was presented to the former by George I. Before that, the Book of Deer may have been in the possession of Dr Gale, High master of St Paul’s School (1672-97). The stages by which it moved from the North East of Scotland to the South of England are by no means clear. Even Cambridge University Library was unaware of its significance until it was discovered in 1860 by Henry Bradshaw, the librarian at that time.
In Dark Lord and Dark Destiny,  I feature the monks of the Abbey of Deer and a sacred book they are protecting.  This is the book I had in mind.  When I was in Scotland,  a historian told me about this book and introduced me to the Book of Deer project, dedicated to educating people about the manuscript and returning the book to Scotland.  This same historian took us on a private tour of the ruins of the Abbey and gave me a research book that described the original layout.  Here are some pictures from our tour:
You can view a video tour of the Abbey of Deer at:
You can read about the Dark Birthright trilogy at:
Some pictures and commentary from
Please visit and support the Book of Deer project.

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