For the first time in more than one thousand years, the Book of Deer, possibly Scotland’s oldest surviving manuscript, will return to the north-east of Scotland in 2022. The community heritage group The Book of Deer Project, based in Aden Country Park in Aberdeenshire, has secured £128,588 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to bring the 10th century text back to the area where it is believed to have originated and to celebrate its return. It will be on loan from Cambridge University Library, where it has been since 1715, and will be exhibited at Aberdeen Art Gallery in summer 2022, during the Year of Scotland’s Stories.
The Book of Deer is a rare example of a pocket gospel book, and was produced for private use rather than for church services. It contains the oldest surviving example of written Scots Gaelic (it also includes Latin text) in the world within its margins. Plans to celebrate the temporary return of the Book of Deer are well underway and a series of community cultural events will take place in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to celebrate the book and its heritage. Parallel events are also being planned in Cambridge. The programme will include a further archaeological dig at the Abbey of Deer in Aberdeenshire, thought to be the site of the early mediaeval monastery where the Book of Deer was annotated with the earliest written Gaelic. This community excavation will take place over ten weeks in summer 2022, the longest excavation yet, hoping to find the Monastery of Deer following 11 years of searching.
The project will engage with the community and schools in the local area, allowing children, young people and others to be actively involved in the excavation, ensuring the legacy of the book’s loan continues well beyond 2022. Anne Simpson, chair of the Book of Deer Project, said: “We act as the catalyst for renewed interest, research and community engagement surrounding the book in the north-east of Scotland and beyond. The central objective of our project is to celebrate the book and its heritage in a modern context. We’re delighted to ensure the Book of Deer will be accessible to the wider public next summer, fittingly coinciding with the Year of Scotland’s Stories. Artefacts like the Book of Deer, and the 200,000 plus rare books and unique manuscripts the University holds in its own collections, are invaluable in shining a light on our past and how that shapes who we are today so we are looking forward to being part of sharing this knowledge with the wider community.”
Cllr. Anne Stirling, chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee said: “The Book of Deer Project has been working to increase the profile of this internationally significant book for many years, so the award of lottery money to bring it back to the north-east in such a high profile way is fantastic and testament to all the hard work that’s gone in so far. It’s clearly very relevant that it will return to the north-east in the Year of Scotland’s Stories and I’m really looking forward to seeing more details of the cultural programme which will help mark the return of the book and hopefully highlight the existence and importance of this text among many people who may never have heard of it until this point. Just imagine how exciting it would be if the community dig taking place next summer was finally able to identify the site of the Monastery of Deer, adding further to the fascinating story of the Book of Deer and its legacy in the north-east.”
The Monastery of Deer in Aberdeenshire had the historic book, which highlights the early church, culture and society of the period, in its care by 1,000 AD.