The Book of Deer is of supreme cultural importance to Scotland, particularly for the North-East region. This rare example of a pocket gospel book is possibly Scotland’s oldest manuscript and includes the earliest surviving example of written Scots Gaelic in the world within its margins. On loan from Cambridge University Library, The Book of Deer will be on display at Aberdeen Art Gallery from Saturday 2 July to Sunday 2 October 2022, as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories.
The volunteer community heritage group The Book of Deer Project, based in Aden Country Park in Aberdeenshire, secured £128,588 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to bring the ancient text back to the area where it is believed to have originated and to celebrate its return. Alongside the exhibition, there is a packed cultural activity programme taking place in Aberdeen City and Shire, delivered through close partnerships with Aberdeen City Council / Aberdeen Art Gallery, Aberdeenshire Council, Cambridge University Library, Cameron Archaeology Ltd, Live Life Aberdeenshire, and the University of Aberdeen.
The programme celebrates the manuscript’s links with the North-East of Scotland and includes talks, tours, workshops, family trails, games and storytelling, with the key archaeological dig now underway at the site of the Abbey of Deer in Aberdeenshire. This community excavation, one of the largest excavations of an early medieval site, will take place over ten weeks this summer 2022, the longest excavation yet. Led by Cameron Archaeology Ltd, the team will map the newly discovered finds in order to make plans of the remains of the buildings that are known to be under the ground in the field west of Deer Abbey. 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.
Other highlights of the cultural programme include:
Performances of the specially-commissioned Book of Deer Suite at Pluscarden Abbey (30 April), Deer Abbey (1 May) and Aberdeen Art Gallery (1 October)
Art on the Road, a one-off minibus tour of North Aberdeenshire artist studios
Family Puzzle Zones at Aberdeenshire Farming Museum
Book to Banner - help to create fabric banners inspired by the Book of Deer, for fans of fabric and stitch at Libraries throughout Aberdeenshire
Murder most silent - find out what happened to Brother Godfrey, fun for all the family at Aden Country Park
Spotlight tours at Aberdeen Art Gallery, learn more about the Book of Deer
Collections Close Up - explore the treasures from the collection of illuminate manuscripts from University of Aberdeen Museums and Special Collections.
Anne Simpson, Chair of the Book of Deer project, said: “Our volunteer community heritage project has worked hard over many years now to highlight the importance of the Book of Deer, its relationship to the North-East of Scotland and to present its heritage in a modern context. It’s a source of immense pride for our group that our dreams have been realised with the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and all our project partners. This remarkable little book is returning to the area it originated in for the first time in centuries, and together with the community we are celebrating its temporary return with a rich programme of cultural activity. Imagine how exciting it would be if the community dig was finally able to identify the site of the Monastery of Deer, adding to our understanding of the fascinating story of the Book of Deer. The whole project is a fantastic opportunity to connect new audiences with heritage in an inspirational way that will leave a lasting legacy.”
Dr. Jessica Gardner, Librarian and Director of Library Services, Cambridge University Library, said: “The Book of Deer is of supreme cultural importance to Scotland generally, and for the north-east of Scotland in particular, and this programme has our strongest and warmest support. It offers an unparalleled opportunity to connect new audiences with heritage in an inspirational way that will leave a lasting legacy.”
The full programme can be viewed online at The Book of Deer webpage.