NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Images shine light on ancient Aberdeen Bestiary

Aberdeen Bestiary Image copyright UoA
Image caption The Aberdeen Bestiary features tales of animals to illustrate what were essential moral beliefs

High definition images of an 800-year-old manuscript that once belonged to Henry VIII have revealed previously unknown details about its purpose.

Known as the Aberdeen Bestiary, the book was created in England around 1200 and features tales of animals to illustrate what were essential beliefs.

Researchers had thought it was commissioned for a high status client.

However, newly discovered marks suggest it was a learning tool seized during the dissolution of the monasteries.

The lavishly decorated book was first documented in the Royal Library at Westminster Palace in 1542 and is one of the finest surviving examples of a medieval illuminated manuscript, according to the experts.

Image copyright UoA
Image caption The manuscript has been in the care of the University of Aberdeen since 1625

It has been in the care of the University of Aberdeen since 1625 after it was bequeathed to Marischal College by Thomas Reid, the founder of the first public reference library in Scotland.

Prof Jane Geddes, an art historian from the university, said marks and annotations that were not previously visible, point to the manuscript having been handpicked by scouts of Henry VIII when they scoured monasteries for valuables.

'Looked like imperfections'

She said: "The Aberdeen Bestiary is one of the most lavish ever produced, but it was never fully completed and so the edges of the pages were not finished and tidied up.

"This means that the tiny notes from those who created it still remain in the margins providing invaluable clues about its creation and provenance.

"Some were visible to the naked eye but digitisation has revealed many more which had simply looked like imperfections in the parchment."

Image copyright UoA
Image caption The images revealed 'clear evidence' the book was produced in a busy scriptorium

Prof Geddes said that the high definition images revealed clear evidence the book was produced in a busy scriptorium.

She added: "On many of the words there are tiny marks which would have provided a guide to the correct pronunciation when the book was being read aloud.

"This shows the book was designed for an audience, probably of teacher and pupils, and used to provide a Christian moral message through both its Latin words and striking illustrations.

"We've also been able to see for the first time that most pages have dirty finger marks in the bottom corner, from turning the folio. But at least one has repeated dirty thumb marks in the centre of the top margin, created by turning the book around for public viewing."

Prof Geddes said the marks all suggested the book was created for the enjoyment of many rather than to be held as a private treasure for the wealthy elite.

The University has made the high definition images available online for the first time in a move which they say returns it to its original purpose of learning.

Image copyright UoA
Image caption The Aberdeen Bestiary was created around 1200 in England

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