Celtic Psalter (11th century)

page from the celtic psalter

The oldest Scottish book still in Scotland.

Perhaps the library’s greatest treasure is this pocket-size Psalter, with extraordinary illuminations in vivid green, red, purple and gold. It has been dated to the 11th century and is almost certainly the oldest Scottish book still in Scotland. The Irish miniscule script is bold and clear and it gives a text of the Psalms in Latin that can still be read today.

Although the original binding is lost, it was probably commissioned for a figure of some importance, such as St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, to whose reign it can be dated. The fact that some of the decoration was enhanced in the English ‘Winchester’ style may indicate a connection with St. Margaret, who descended from the Anglo-Saxon royal family. How the book was acquired by the University is unclear; it quietly appears in a manuscript catalogue of 1636. Other notes in the volume indicate that it was previously in Aberdeen and it is entirely possible that it was written at a Scottish monastery.

Its survival in almost pristine internal condition strongly suggests that it was valued for an association now lost to us. This is the oldest of some 275 Western medieval manuscripts in our Centre for Research collection.


This Celtic Psalter is one of iconic items selected by our Centre for Research Collections staff as the most beautiful, important and unique treasures in the University’s collections. See more of these iconic items: The University of Edinburgh’s Iconic Items


CC BY LogoThe digitisation of this book was created by The University of Edinburgh Library staff and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence.


Header Image: Portion of the Celtic psalter, 11thC., f.3r, The University of Edinburgh Library, CC BY 3.0