A new chapter in the history of Scotland's oldest book

IT MAY well be the country's oldest surviving book but it has taken almost 1,000 years for it to make its first proper public appearance.

The Celtic Psalter will go on public display tomorrow when it forms part of a new exhibition – Masterpieces 1 – in the exhibition room at Edinburgh University's main library.

The pocket-sized book of Psalms, which dates from the 11th century, has been described as Scotland's version of the celebrated Book of Kells in Dublin.

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It is thought that the handwritten book, which features the Latin version of the Psalms of King David, was written by monks at the monastery of Iona almost 1,000 years ago.

Although the original binding has been lost, the script is bold and clear, and the book has been kept in the university's library since the early 17th century.

Rare books librarian at the library, Joseph Marshall, 35, said: "We have had the book for a large part of its recorded history but we have never had a public exhibition room, so it has never been in proper public view before. It's really only been seen by academics and researchers – people who study medieval manuscripts.

"The great thing about it is we think it is the oldest Scottish book still in Scotland, so it is one of our greatest national treasures, and people haven't really known about it. We are hoping people will recognise it for what it is – one of the most precious documents in the country."

It is thought that the book was written for someone of major importance, with one possibility being St Margaret, who was Queen of Scotland around the time it was produced.

The 144-page medieval Psalter includes Pictish designs of colourful dragons, beasts and monsters, with images on almost every page, and was only briefly displayed at the National Library of Scotland for the 'Celtica' exhibition in 1967.

Mr Marshall said: "You would think somebody had taken a felt tip pen to it, it's that bright. There is every colour you can imagine – green, purple, red, yellow. It really is a colourful and beautiful book.

"We are very excited about the book and hope lots of people will come and see it and ask us questions."

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Among the other attractions at the exhibition will be the only copy in Scotland of the first book printed in any of the Gaelic languages. The publication, which is a translation into Scottish Gaelic of John Knox's Book of Common Order, was printed in Edinburgh in 1567.

Also featuring in the exhibition at the library on George Square will be the finest surviving copy of Scotland's first substantial printed book – the Aberdeen Breviary – which was commissioned by William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen, and printed in 1509-10.

Other exhibits will include a copy of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet published during his lifetime, which was presented to Edinburgh University by the poet, William Drummond, in 1626.

A beautifully illuminated manuscript of the works of the Roman poet Virgil, which was produced in Paris during the first half of the 15th century, will also form part of the exhibition.

Masterpieces 1 will run until 14 March next year.