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date: 14 October 2019

Book of Deerlocked

  • Katherine Forsyth

Extract

Illuminated Gospel book (Cambridge, U. Lib., MS. Ii.6.32) made in the 10th Century. This is the oldest extant Gospel book with a securely Scottish provenance. Housed since 1715 in Cambridge University Library, it belonged in the early 12th century to the monastery of Deer, Aberdeenshire, as shown by a series of property grants recorded in its margins. These notes constitute, by some three centuries, the oldest surviving documents in Scottish Gaelic. The Book is a small-format, abbreviated Gospels intended for personal devotion and intimate pastoral use. As such it is an exceptional survival from the period. It contains the complete Latin text of John’s Gospel, and the beginnings of the other three. At an early date the text of a communion service for the sick and dying was inserted on a separate leaf. The Book was produced c. 900 in a Gaelic-speaking milieu at an unknown location, possibly in north-east Scotland, perhaps at Deer itself. The scribe appears also to have been the artist. Despite its small size, the Book follows many of the conventions of Insular book art and is comparatively heavily illuminated. Its programme consists of ‘three cruciform pages, five Gospel incipits with decorated initials, five full-folio and one half-folio figurative miniatures, and a variety of marginalia’ which relate to points of significance in the text (Henderson ...

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