The Book of Deer is a 10th century manuscript currently preserved at Cambridge University. Recently, the Monastery of Deer was found by archaeologists.
Today, Deer Abbey is a ruin near Aberdeen of a Cistercian community founded in 1219. We know, however, from a precious manuscript held in the Cambridge University Library that there existed an earlier, vibrant community nearby. The last ten years a group of archaeologists have tried to find the exact location of this earlier monastery, in order to get more information about the community and its character. One reason is that the book of Deer holds some of the earliest examples of Scottish Gaelic Writing. It is the only pre-Norman manuscript heralding from the “Pictland”
The excavations, initiated by a local community-driven initiative, The Book of Deer Project, have until now been fruitless. Recently, though, a circular building with a possible stone-entrance and post-holes was discovered. The archaeologists are planning to return in summer 2018 to see what more may be uncovered of the monastery, which The hope is to be able to get a better feeling for the kind of community, which produced the extraordinary manuscript.
The Book of Deer is a Gospel Book is dated to the beginning of the 10th century. It is written in a hand, so-called insular minuscule, which was common c. 850 – 1000. Its layout and design is close to Irish manuscript from the same period. Nevertheless, scholars generally believe that it was designed and written in Aberdeenshire. This identification is based on several notes concerning land grants indicating the manuscript was at least kept at the monastery of Deer in the 12th century. Currently, it is a fragment. Of the four gospels, only St. John is complete. The manuscript also holds the office for the visitation of the sick as well as the Apostle’s Creed. The book measures 15.7 x 10.8 cm and is considered to have been a personal copy of the gospels used for private contemplation or in the service of a wandering cleric. The Book of Deer has been digitised.
Ten years ago, the Book of Deer project was established to place the unique cultural heritage of the Book of Deer at the centre of the local community. An important element is a website, which holds an impressive number of articles featuring the historical and cultural context of the Book of Deer.
The Book of Deer
Cambridge University Library
The Gaelic Notes in the Book of Deer
Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Book of Deer c. 900. Fol 17 r. © Cambridge University Library