Historic Scottish book goes on display at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Release date: 
Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A 15th-century manuscript, probably one of the earliest Scottish bindings to have survived, will go on show at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh from 5 November.  The Holyrood Ordinal was produced for use in Holyrood Abbey, the Augustinian abbey founded by David I in 1128. Today only the nave of the Abbey Church survives as a picturesque ruin at the north-east corner of the Palace.

The manuscript will be displayed in the Outer Chamber of Mary, Queen of Scots’ apartments, where Mary used to worship. From a window in the room, Mary would have looked directly down on to the west entrance of the Abbey Church.
In large churches or monasteries, an ordinal was used at the religious community’s daily meeting. The Holyrood Ordinal consists of 130 pages of Latin text, written in ink on parchment or vellum (specially prepared animal skin).  It contains the rules for the daily service, a calendar with the names of saints connected with the days, and a list of martyrs.  It also includes the gospels and homilies that were read on Sundays and on festival days.

The Ordinal has interesting local adaptations.  For example, particular prominence is given to the two feasts of the Holy Cross and to Scottish saints, such as St Columba and St Ninian.  The text also includes the story of the Abbey’s foundation.  According to legend, David I was attacked by a stag and thrown from his horse while out hunting.  As he lay injured, he grasped the cross (or ‘rood’) that appeared between the stag’s antlers, and the stag disappeared.  The king was inspired to found an abbey on the site of the incident and named the abbey ‘Holy Rood’.

The Holyrood Ordinal has a rich history. It was in daily use until the Reformation in the 16th century, when it probably left the Abbey.  During the 17th and 18th centuries, it was part of the library of the Cuninghame family at Caprington Castle in Ayrshire. By 1836 it belonged to Alexander Pringle of Whytbank, MP for Selkirkshire and a friend of Sir Walter Scott. In the late 19th or early 20th century, the volume was bought by William Moir Bryce at a sale of books that had belonged to Mr Pringle.  In 1918 Mr Moir Bryce, President of the Old Edinburgh Club, donated the manuscript for display at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  It was shown in the Palace’s Great Gallery until the 1980s.  Since then, the volume has been studied by experts in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, and has undergone specialist cleaning and conservation before being returned to display at the Palace.

Visitor information for the Palace of Holyroodhouse is available from www.royalcollection.org.uk or 0131 556 5100

Press information and photographs are available from Kathryn Cecil, Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, 020 7839 1377,press@royalcollection.org.uk.