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
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A Search for Identity & Knowledge
The site covers two separate but complementary elements inspired by The Book of Deer. The first being The Book of Deer Manuscript which is made up of the 86 folios (a leaf of paper numbered on one side only)with illuminations.
The second is The Book of Deer Project. This is a community based initiative and the catalyst for renewed academic interest, research and community development in the North East of Scotland. The Book of Deer Project is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation and is recognised as a local Scottish Charity. The Scottish Charity number for the Book of Deer Project is SC 030656.
A Search for new ideas
The impetus for this initiative was set up from a Community Project undertaken within the area around Old Deer in Buchan, Aberdeenshire, in collaboration with Aberdeen University, Cambridge University Library, Aberdeenshire Council and BT Scotland.
The Project focuses on the historic connections between the area and the Book of Deer. The book has been described as “one of the principal antiquities of Celtic Scotland”. Central to work of the Project is the creation of this website and archive which provides access to a virtual Book of Deer with information on its unique features. Particular focus is given to cultural aspects of linguistics, theology and history. The association of Latin texts and Old Irish Rubrics within the manuscript is unique.
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.
This web site therefore offers the ideal synthesis of knowledge, both ancient and modern, and equally provides a stimulus for pan-Celtic debate.
Making the Book of Deer accessible
Local community enthusiasm was linked with scholarly expertise through the Advisory Committee based at the University of Aberdeen’s, Elphinstone Institute. The Book of Deer Project, based in Central Buchan, has been the development forum for the project to digitise the manuscript’s 84 folios and make them available online.
Through the latest imaging technology, the manuscript is now more accessible than the book itself could ever be. Details of the book can be displayed at many levels – the languages (Latin, Old Irish and Gaelic), the illustrations and significance of the book for history and law etc are thus available in a way inconceivable until very recently.
The Book of Deer is a symbol of the shared cultural and religious inheritance of Scotland and Ireland. Its association with Celtic Christianity also links it with the North of England. For the 21st century, this community initiative in Aberdeenshire can now be shared globally.
The regeneration of any community is directly linked to its ability to constantly transform itself without losing sight of its cultural roots.