National Library of Scotland digitizes 240 medieval manuscripts

Stunning illuminations, medieval doodles, zodiac medical equipment and advice to 12th century Templars on the “superfluity” of beards and mustaches can now be viewed in an extremely rare collection of medieval and modern manuscripts online.

The National Library of Scotland has digitized a collection of over 240 valuable manuscripts, many of which have Scottish origins ranging from the 9th to the 16th century. The collection also includes volumes produced in England, France, Italy and North West Europe, as well as Greece and Iceland. Many of them are finely decorated or of major textual importance.

12th century manuscript of the Rule of the Knights Templar – image courtesy of the National Library of Scotland

“This fascinating digitized collection is of international origin, although many of the volumes were written in Scotland,” says Ulrike Hogg, Curator of Manuscripts at the National Library of Scotland. “The survival rate of medieval Scottish manuscript volumes is generally low. For example, only 1% of religious manuscripts in Roman Catholic use – many of which were systematically destroyed during and after the Scottish Reformation – are believed to still exist.

“It is difficult to estimate how many cultural treasures were lost during this time. The collection presented here includes a number of these lucky survivors who endured the following centuries. We are thrilled to make these extremely rare pieces of history available to the public online.

15th Century Folded Zodiacal / Medical Almanac – image courtesy of the National Library of Scotland

The collection includes:

  • A 15th century folded medical/zodiac almanac, which probably belonged to a doctor based in the north of England. Folded, it can be worn on the belt
  • A selection of historical doodles showing rich period detail
  • A 12th-century manuscript of the Rule of the Order of the Knights Templar, including advice on the “superfluity” of beards and mustaches
  • A 15th century psalter written and illuminated at Culross Abbey, Fife
  • A small 15th century Italian Book of Hours with lavish gilt illumination
  • An early 16th century manuscript written and illuminated at Dunkeld

“Digital images provide a new opportunity to gain insight into medieval Scottish book production,” adds Dr Hogg. The interests, tastes and knowledge of medieval scribes can be seen in these images, as well as the development of Scottish medieval bookhandwriting and styles of illumination. The collection reveals much information about the later owners of the manuscripts, who annotated them or added irreverent scribbles as the volumes passed through their hands.

Click here to view the National Library of Scotland’s Ancient Manuscripts section

15th Century Book of Hours – image courtesy of the National Library of Scotland
This 15th century psalter was written and illuminated at Culross Abbey, Fife. In the initial B that begins the first Psalm, there is an illustration of King David playing the harp. Particularly vibrant color combinations seem to be a common feature of Scottish lighting at this time. Image courtesy of National Library of Scotland
This small 15th century portable book of hours is written on very fine vellum and beautifully illuminated. Images of saints appear with gold initials, and there are some larger illustrations. Image courtesy of National Library of Scotland

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