Scotland’s oldest book is now online for all to see

It has been kept firmly under lock and key for generations to protect it from the effects of light and any wear and tear.
The 11th century Psalter, or Book of Psalms, in Latin probably produced in a monastery on the west coast of Scotland.The 11th century Psalter, or Book of Psalms, in Latin probably produced in a monastery on the west coast of Scotland.
The 11th century Psalter, or Book of Psalms, in Latin probably produced in a monastery on the west coast of Scotland.

Now, future generations will be able to study a digitised version of the Celtic Psalter, Scotland’s oldest book, which dates from the 11th century and contains hand-written psalms in Latin, with Celtic and Pictish illustrations.

Experts believe that the pocket-size book of Psalms could have come from Iona.

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The exact origin of the psalter is a mystery but experts believe it was probably produced by monks on Iona, who were also associated with the making of the Book of Kells, one of the treasures of early Irish Christianity.

It was probably commissioned for a figure of some importance, such as St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, to whose reign in the 11th century it can be dated.

It is thought that the Celtic Psalter was donated to Edinburgh University George Squares library around the 17th century, with documents suggesting it may previously have been kept in a library in Aberdeen.

Since then, however, it has only been available to a small number of scholars and students of medieval manuscript, although it was made available to the public to view in 2009, and made an appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2017.

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It is still in pristine condition because it has been kept out of public view for so long.

Although the original binding has been lost, the script is bold and clear and the red, green, purple and gold in the illustrations are still vivid

The university’s museums and special collections is home to more than 400,000 volumes of rare and collectable books including manuscripts and archives.

The Celtic Psalter will join the impressive collection and has been given pride of place in a new online exhibition.

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The book can be viewed by members of the public through the Google Arts & Culture online platform.

The online platform allows users to zoom in on objects in detail and read about the stories behind the artefacts.

The exhibition is open to all members of the public and is free to attend – organisers hope its accessible nature will help a wider group of people access the artefacts.

Head of special collections Daryl Green said online access to exhibitions has played a vital role in engagement during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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He said: “This challenging year has brought the need for online engagement into sharper focus and we are delighted to be able to work with Google Arts & Culture to share the stories behind the collections more widely.”

Other precious objects steeped in history include photographs from the archive of Sir Patrick Geddes – the so-called father of modern town planning who is famed for regenerating Edinburgh’s Old Town – will also be available to view.

Engravings and photographs linked to the renowned novelist, poet, historian, lawyer and alumnus, Sir Walter Scott will also be on display. The exhibition will also showcase some of the most iconic treasures from the university’s extensive collection of musical instruments, including a violin from the 19th century played by James Scott Skinner – one of Scotland’s most famous fiddlers, and a renowned dancer who was chosen by Queen Victoria to teach callisthenics and dancing to the royal household at Balmoral.

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