Page last updated at 01:50 GMT, Thursday, 10 December 2009

Scotland's oldest book on display

The Celtic Psalter
The public will get a rare glimpse of the 11th century Celtic Psalter

The oldest book in Scotland is going on public display for the first time in its history.

The Celtic Psalter dates from the 11th Century and contains hand-written psalms in Latin, with Celtic and Pictish illustrations.

It has been kept under lock and key at the University of Edinburgh and has been available to only a few scholars.

But for the next three months the public will have the chance to view the book at the university's library.

The psalter, which is thought to be almost 1,000 years old, has been described as Scotland's version of the famous Book of Kells in Dublin.

It contains a handwritten copy of the Psalms of King David in Latin, and has ornate pictures of dragons and beasts.

Edinburgh University's rare book librarian Joseph Marshall said: "People have been reluctant to show it, but now we have a special display case, and really this is the book's first public outing in 1,000 years."

The origin of the psalter is a mystery but experts believe it was probably produced by monks in Iona, who were also associated with the making of the Book of Kells.

It's as beautiful today as it was when it was first written
Joseph Marshall
Edinburgh University

It is thought that the pocket-sized book was donated to Edinburgh University's library around the 17th century, but it has only been available to students of medieval manuscripts.

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.

Mr Marshall said: "It is a riot of colour. You would think someone had gone over it with a felt-tip pen."

He added that he thought the book was probably commissioned by a figure of importance, such as St Margaret, Queen of Scotland.

Mr Marshall said:"Someone has gone to town to make it look beautiful and it's as beautiful today as it was when it was first written."

The psalter is part of a display which marks the refurbishment of the university library's exhibition room.

"Masterpieces 1" also includes Scotland's only copy of the first book printed in any of the Gaelic languages.

Also on display is the finest surviving copy of Scotland's first substantial printed book, the Aberdeen Breviary which dates back to 1509.

There is also a copy of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet published during the playwright's lifetime.

The exhibition opens on Friday and lasts until 14 March.

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