A copy of the Aberdeen Breviary, one of the first printed books in Scotland, has been purchased by the National Library of Scotland and is now available to read online.
The Aberdeen Breviary, so-called because it was commissioned by the Bishop of Aberdeen, contains services and readings for use in Scottish churches. It was the first printed service book to chronicle the lives of the Scottish saints and is thought to have been compiled by the best Scottish historians of the day. Printed in 1509-1510, it was the reason for James IV granting a licence for printing to begin in Scotland.
Bound at the back of the Breviary is a small 16-page book called the ‘Compassio Beate Marie’. The ‘Compassio’ contains orders of service and readings about the arrival of St Andrew’s relics into Scotland. It is the only known copy in existence and was printed between 1510 and 1532, providing clear evidence that Scots continued to print their own books after producing the Breviary. The last time such a unique example of early Scottish printing was added to the collection at the National Library was more than 200 years ago.
The two-volume Breviary has been in the Earl of Strathmore’s library at Glamis Castle in Angus for many years. The Glamis Breviary was the only remaining copy in private hands and was offered to the National Library by Christie’s, acting on behalf of the Trustees of the Strathmore Estates.
There are three other surviving sets of the Aberdeen Breviary, including one in the National Library’s collections. None of the copies is identical and the Glamis copy is considered by some scholars to be the best surviving example. It also contains contemporary annotations, including a set of verses and music. It was printed by Walter Chepman, who owned Scotland’s first printing press.
“This is a very significant addition to our collection,” said Scotland’s National Librarian, Dr John Scally. “Each surviving copy of the Aberdeen Breviary makes an important contribution to our understanding of how Scotland’s first books were printed. As is often the case with the first products of a printing press, the work was still somewhat experimental and many corrections were made during the printing process. The Aberdeen Breviary is the only work which allows comparisons to be made, shedding new light on Scotland’s first experience with printing.”
The National Library of Scotland has already digitized both the Breviary and the ‘Compassio’, which can be accessed here. The Library plans to work with academic partners to create a scholarly edition of the text and a modern translation.
“We are delighted to have brought these hugely important examples of early printing in Scotland into public ownership where they will be made widely available for study for the first time,” said Helen Vincent, the Library’s Head of Rare Books and Music.