‘Sweetheart’ prayer book returns to Scotland after 300 years

The book was written in Scotland 700 years ago. Picture: Stewart Hardy
The book was written in Scotland 700 years ago. Picture: Stewart Hardy
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A PRECIOUS medieval manuscript written in a Scottish abbey around 700 years ago has been secured for the nation – after being missing for 300 years.

The monastic treasure linked to a ruined monastery in Dumfriesshire has been snapped up by the National Library of Scotland after coming under the hammer overseas.

Picture: Stewart Hardy

Picture: Stewart Hardy

Experts there have described the recovery of the missing prayer book as the most important acquisition of its kind for three decades.

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The early 14th Century breviary, the origins of which can be traced to the historic Sweetheart Abbey, near Dumfries, is said to be an extremely rare example of a medieval religious manuscript written and used in Scotland.

Although the manuscript had been mentioned in various historical records, it was feared that it would either never be recovered or that it had even been destroyed at some stage.

Picture: Stewart Hardy

Picture: Stewart Hardy

Experts say the entire volume from what was to become the last Cistercian monastery to be built in Scotland is in “remarkably good condition. It contains the text for many of the monastic prayers used during the medieval era in Scotland.

The Sweetheart Breviary, as it has been described by experts, was written in Latin between 1300 and 1350 in what was to become the last Cistercian monastery to be built in Scotland.

Founded in 1273 by Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway in memory of her husband Lord John Balliol, the monastery was given its name by the monks after she was laid to rest in 1290 next to his embalmed heart. She had carried it everywhere with her in an ivory casket after his death in 1268.

Its last known whereabouts were in 1715 when it was described in the printed catalogue of a Yorkshire historian and antiquarian, Ralph Thoresby.

It resurfaced last year at one of the world’s oldest auction houses, The Dorotheum, in Vienna. Although the National Library of Scotland was alerted to its impending sale, it was outbid by an American manuscripts dealer. However, the breviary was subsequently offered for sale to the library.

Kenneth Dunn, curator of manuscripts at the National Library, said: “Now that we own it, we will be trying to trace where it has been since 1715. We don’t know where it has come from recently – it is such an intriguing story.”

brian.ferguson@jpress.co.uk