An ancient manuscript which contains the oldest surviving written Gaelic in the world is to return to Scotland for the first time in centuries. 

The Book of Deer will go on display in Aberdeen Art Gallery next year, during the Year of Scotland's Stories.   

The tome, which dates to the 10th Century,  is a rare example of a pocket gospel book, and was produced for private use rather than for church services. 

It is linked to the Monastery of Deer in Aberdeenshire, which is known by historians but whose location remains a mystery. 

The Book of Deer was likely written by an Irish scribe and is mostly in Latin, but contains Scots Gaelic in its margins.  

It was probably looted during the wars of Independence in the 13th and 14th centuries, and has been in the collection of Cambridge University since 1715. 

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.  


An illumination from the Book of Deer

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.   

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.    

“Ours is a small corner of the world, but it is an important one. The return of the Book of Deer and the exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery, along with the community dig and cultural programme will allow us to celebrate the manuscript’s links with north east Scotland in a manner it deserves.” 

Dr Jenny Downes, Exhibitions & Public Programming Manager at the University of Aberdeen, added: “We are delighted to be part of bringing this important historic and culturally significant manuscript back to the north-east.  

“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.”