Friday 14 December 2012

Liturgical Fragments from the Early Celtic Church I: The Book of Deer

The 1870 edition of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record contained two interesting items published as part of an occasional series, 'Liturgical Fragments of the Early Celtic Church'. The first of these deals with the pocket-gospel known as The Book of Deer, a Scottish text with strong links to the Irish manuscript tradition. I have reproduced it below, although without the footnotes contained in the original. The article contains a translation of a liturgical text from the Book of Deer which is most interesting, as is the account of the tragic fate of many volumes from monastic libraries during the Reformation in Scotland.

The Book of Deer now resides in Cambridge, itself a source of grievance to the Scots, who would prefer to see this national treasure returned to its homeland. There is an online community-based project in Aberdeen to encourage study and interest in the text which can be found here. The volume by Stuart, which is referred to in the article is also available online at the Internet Archive.


THE " Book of Deer," which has just been published by Mr. Stuart for the Spalding Club is an invaluable memorial of the Scottish monasteries founded by St. Columbkille. It contains the Gospel of St. John complete, and portions of the other three Evangelists, together with some liturgical fragments and a collection of Memoranda of gifts and grants made to the monastery of Deer by the Celtic chiefs of the territory of Buchan in which it was situated. The text of the Gospels and of the liturgical fragments belongs to the ninth century: the Memoranda were written at different periods at a later age.

Mr. Stuart thus begins his prefatory remarks: " Amid the darkness which enshrouds those missionaries who imparted to the heathen tribes of Alba the blessings of the Christian faith, the form of St. Columba stands out with exceptional clearness of outline ; and the popular instinct has not erred which ascribes to him the largest share in the great work, and traces to his mission the most enduring results. The almost contemporary pages of his biographer, St. Adamnan, enable us to realize to ourselves the system adopted by the great missionary in his enterprise. When he first took possession for Christ of the little island of Hy, which, under the name of Iona, was to become illustrious for all time from its association with him, he founded upon it a monastery in conformity with the system which then prevailed, not only in the country of the Scots (i.e., Ireland), from which he came, but throughout Europe. Every fresh settlement which the Saint effected as he pushed his Christian conquests, whether in the islands of -the Hebrides or in the mainland country of the northern Picts, consisted of a monastery for a body of clerics, from which they might disperse themselves in circuits among the surrounding tribes returning to their home for shelter and mutual support. One of these monastic settlements was that of Deer, in Buchan, a district of Aberdeenshire, which, projecting into the German Ocean, forms the most easterly point of Scotland ; and the legend of the Book of the Gospels of this house preserves in traditional detail the circumstances which marked the infancy of the establishment."

One of the Celtic memoranda, giving an account of the foundation of the monastery, has been thus translated by Mr. Stokes :

" Columbcille and Drostan, son of Cosgrach, his pupil came from Hy, as God had shown to them, unto Abbordsdoir, and Bede, the Pict, was mormaer of Buchan before them, and it was he that gave them that town in freedom for ever from mormaer and tosech. They came after that to the other town, and it was pleasing to Columbcille, because it was full of God's grace, and he asked of the mormaer Bede that he should give it to him, and he did not give it ; and a son of his took an illness after refusing the clerics, and was nearly dead. Then the mormaer went to entreat the clerics that they should make prayer for the son that health should come to him, and he gave an offering to them from Cloch-in-tiprat to Cloch-pette-mic-Garnait. They made the prayer and health came to him. After that Columbcille gave to Drostan that town, and blessed it, and left as his word, ' whosoever should come against it let him not be many-yeared victorious.' Drostan's tears (i.e. deara) came on parting with Columbcille. Said Columbcille, ' Let Dear be its name henceforward.' "

The town of Aberdour gives name to a sheltered bay on the rocky shores of Buchan: and St. Columba, with his disciple St.Drostan, probably sailed thither from Iona in one of those frail coracles, which were so much in use with our early saints.

Even at the present day numerous hut-foundations of early times are traceable along the coast of Aberdour, and prove that a dense population must formerly have inhabited this district. The word town, however, used in the above legend, may perhaps, like the Latin civitas of our early records, mean nothing more than the site of the monastery and its enclosure granted to St. Columba. The memory of St. Drostan, whom the great Apostle of the Picts left to evangelize the district of Buchan, still lives at Aberdour. The Parish Church placed on the brink of a gorge, on a ledge or table-land overlooking the burn of the Dour, at a spot about 150 yards distant from the shore of the Moray Firth, was dedicated to God under his invocation, and till the beginning of the 16th century his relics were religiously preserved, there in a stone chest, and many miraculous cures were performed through his intercession.

In the face of the rock, not far from the spot where the stream falls into the sea, is also a clear spring of water, still called St. Drostan's well.

From the monastery of Aberdour, St. Columba and his companions proceeded twelve miles inland to the banks of the river Ugie, where another town or "civitas," sheltered by wooded heights, on one of which circular foundations, perhaps of some druidical temple, are still traceable, seemed to the saint to be well suited for a religious abode. It was pleasing to Columba, says the legend, because it was full of God's grace. The Pictish ruler of Buchan at first refused to grant this spot to St. Columba, but finding that his son was struck with sudden sickness, and was all but dead, he changed his resolution and complied with the saint's request. It was there that the monastery of Deer was founded, and its name was derived either from the tears (in Celtic deara) shed by St. Drostan on the departure of St. Columba, which is the derivation cherished in the traditions of the monastery itself, or from the surrounding oak woods, even as the great monastic foundations of the same saint at Durrow and Derry derived their Celtic names of Dair-mag and Daire-calgaich, which may be translated the " plain of oaks" and "the oak wood of Calgach." The latter derivation is that which Mr. Stuart considers the more probable, and he adds, "the parish is believed to have been at one time covered with wood, and the names of such places as. Aikiehill and Aikiebrae still preserve the recollection of the oaks which once grew there." The site of Deer would have much to attract the susceptible nature of St. Columba ; with rich pasture on the banks of the river, and the surrounding hills crowned with oaks, he would often be reminded of his own dearly-loved monastery of Durrow and its woods.

As late as the middle of the twelfth century, as appears from the memoranda inserted in the Book of Deer, this monastery was still flourishing, and its inmates continued to receive from the bounty of the Gaelic chiefs of the district additions to their monastic inheritance. A little later it yielded its place to a noble Cistercian Abbey, founded by the Earl of Buchan, which, with the title of Abbey of Deer, inherited most of the lands of the old Columbian monastery.

At the sad era of the Reformation, the Abbey of Deer, with its property, passed into the hands of George, Earl Marischal ; but, as the wife of that nobleman foresaw, such sacrilegious plunder was. destined to be like " a consuming moth in his house." Before a century had passed it was remarked that " the Earles of that house, who before wer the richest in the kingdom, having treasure in store besyd them ; ever since the addition of this so great revenue have losed their stock by heavie burdeines of debt and ingagment."

The next century witnessed the total overthrow of this princely house, so true were the words pronounced by St. Columba when imparting his blessing to the infant monastery, " whosoever shall come against it shall not be many years victorious."

As regards the MS: of which we treat, it is written and ornamented in the best style of the early Irish school Mr. Stuart gives twenty-two plates of facsimiles from its pages, and these alone would suffice to convince any student of Celtic antiquities that it owes its birth to some religious of our island, and that its date cannot be later than the ninth century. One of the Rubrics in the liturgical fragment which the Book of Deer has preserved to us is written in the purest ancient Celtic. After the Gospel of St. John, at the end of the volume, an Irish Colophon is also added by the original scribe, and Mr. Stokes remarks " that in point of language it is identical with the oldest Irish glosses in Zeuss's Grammatica Celtica. The fact that this MS. was used as far back as the eleventh and twelfth centuries to receive the charter-memoranda of royal grants made to the monastery, would be -of itself a sufficient proof that it was even then regarded with special reverence, and held in the highest honour by the religious of that Celtic monastery, probably as being the work of some distinguished member of St. Columba's community in earlier ages. We are not told how this precious volume escaped the vandal fury of the Reformation era. It is certain that many of the most venerable relics of early Celtic piety in Scotland were then consigned to the flames. Mr. Wyatt, in his "Art of Illuminating," assures us that during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth, "cupidity and intolerance destroyed recklessly and ignorantly. . . . Persons were appointed to search out all missals, books of legends, and such superstitious books, and to destroy or sell them for waste paper, reserving only their bindings, when, as was frequently the case, they were ornamented with massive gold and silver, curiously chased, and often further enriched with precious stones ; and so industriously had these men done their work, destroying all books in which they considered Popish tendencies to be shown by the illumination, the use of red letters or of the cross, or even by the to them mysterious diagrams of mathematical works, that when, some years later, Leland was appointed to examine the monastic libraries with a view to the preservation of what was valuable in them, he found that those who had preceded him, had left little to reward his search." Even Bale, who so fully shared the sentiments of the Scottish Puritans, does not hesitate to write that many of those who got possession of the religious houses " reserved the library books, some for worse than profane purposes, some to scour their candlesticks, and some to rub their boots: some they sold to the grocers and soap-sellers, and some they sent over sea to the bookbinders, not in small numbers, but at times whole ships-full." And he adds the following instance: "I know a merchant that bought the contents of two noble libraries for forty shillings price a shame it is to be spoken : this stuff hath he occupied in the stead of grey paper for the space of more than these ten years, and yet hath store enough for as many years to come. A prodigious example is this, and to be abhorred by all men who love their nation as they should do." From a contemporary record preserved in the Registrar House, and cited in the Preface to the " Book of Arbuthnot," we further learn that these deeds of vandalism were not confined to the humbler and less tutored fanatics. One of its entries expressly declares that six precious Missals belonging to Queen Mary were taken by the Lord Murray, Regent of the Kingdom, and consigned to the flames :"Item : tanyne be my Lordis Grace and brint VI. Mess Buikis" The Bishop of Brechin adds that, the Regent burned them with his own hands.

The "Book of Deer" was probably carried away and concealed by some devoted inmate of the suppressed monastery, and no traces of it have been met with till more than a century after the outburst of this storm of Puritan superstition. In 1697 it formed part of the collection of MSS. of John Moore, then Bishop of Norwich, and with his library passed in the beginning of the next century into the possession of the University of Cambridge, where it is now numbered (I. i., b. 32).

Its Scriptural text is of course the most important feature of this ancient MS. It presents the Vulgate, but written in a very careless and corrupt manner, and with very many old and peculiar readings.

The first seventeen verses of St. Matthew's Gospel are treated as a prologue, and are followed by the Rubric : "Finit Prologus. Item, incipit mine Evangelium secundum Matheum". The following are a few instances of the peculiar readings of its text in the Gospel of St. John :

VI. 34. Dixerunt ergo ad eum Domine semper nobis da panem hunc panem semper hunc.


VI. 34. Dixerunt ergo ad eum : Domine semper da nobis panem hunc.

IX. i, 2. Et preteriens vidit Johannem cecum a nativitate et interrogaverunt eum discipuli ejus rabbi quis peccavit neque parentes ejus ut cecus nasceretur.

IX. i, 2. Et praeteriens Jesus vidit hominem caecum a nativitate. Et interrogaverunt eum discipuli ejus:Rabbi quis peccavit hie aut parentes ejus ut caecus nasceretur.

XIII. 10. Dicit ei Jesus, qui locutus est non indiget ut lavet sed est mundus totus.

XIII. 10. Dicit ei Jesus : qui lotus est non indiget nisi ut pedes lavet sed est mundus totus.

XIX. 30. . . . tradidit spiritum: cum autem exspirasset velum templi scisum est medium a sommo usque ad deorsum. Judei ergo, &c.

XIX. 30. . . . tradidit spiritum. Judaei ergo, &c.

The Celtic memoranda inserted in the " Book of Deer" are described by Mr. Stuart as of the greatest importance for the illustration of local Scottish history. They prove, moreover, that some, at least, of the Celtic monasteries, as well as the Celtic population, continued to exist in Scotland till a much later period than is generally supposed. The last document engrossed in the book is a Latin charter of King David I. of Scotland, exempting the religious of the monastery from all lay interference and undue exaction. Among the witnesses to this grant is "Samson, bishop of Brechin," which entry sets at rest an important controversy as to the foundation of the see of Brechin, and proves that it dates back to the reign of King David.

It is principally, however, to the short liturgical fragment contained in this ancient MS. that I now wish to refer. It occupies a portion of two leaves in the middle of the volume which seems to have been intentionally left blank for its insertion. Mr. Stuart, indeed, does not deny that it must be referred to the ninth century, still he considers it as written in a different hand from the biblical portion of the MS. Westwood and the bishop of Brechin, however, do not share this opinion, and indeed it will suffice to compare the facsimiles printed by Mr. Stuart himself to recognize the same hand in the liturgical fragment and in a portion at least of the biblical text; for, as frequently happens in Irish MSS. for instance, in the "Antiphonary of Bangor," the " Liber Hymnorum," the " Leabhar Breac," &c., even the original portion of the volume presents traces of different scribes, or,at least, of more than one style of writing of the same scribe.

The fragment of the liturgy which is thus preserved is the ceremonial for administering the Holy Communion to the sick ; and it happens that a corresponding portion of our ancient ritual has been preserved to us in more than one other ancient copy of the Gospels. ''In the middle of the book'' writes Dr. Forbes, " there are two leaves which contain, in an Irish handwriting, the following service. It will be observed as a curious coincidence that the three services (i.e. of the books of Moling, Dimma, and Deer) all occur on a spare leaf in an Evangelistarium, and that they all relate to the communion of the sick . . . The Book of the Gospels was no doubt carried to the sick person's house, and it would be to meet the convenience of the priest that this service, together with the prayers for the sick, was written in the same volume." The following is the interesting fragment of the sacred liturgy of our ancient Church us in the "Book of Deer":

[Please consult original volume for the Latin text]

Again : a prayer before the "Our Father"

O God, the creator of all things, and the Father of all creatures in heaven and on earth, receive at thy throne of unapproachable light the pious prayers of thy trembling people, and amidst the unceasing canticles of the surrounding cherubim and seraphim hear the petitions of our unhesitating hope.

Our Father, who art in heaven,&c., unto the end.
Deliver us, O Lord, from evil. O Lord Jesus Christ, preserve us at all times in every good work : O God, the source and creator of all good, cleanse us from vice and replenish us with holy virtues through thee O Christ Jesus :
Here give the Sacrifice to Him.
May the Body with the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ be health to thee unto eternal life and salvation.
Nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ may we always say to Thee, O Lord, Alleluja, Alleluja.
Who hath satiated the humble soul and replenished the hungry soul with good things, Alleluja, Alleluja.
And may they offer the sacrifice of praise : with the remainder of the psalm to the word rejoicing. Alleluja, Alleluja.
I will take the chalice of salvation and invoke the name of the Lord, Alleluja, Alleluja.
Nourished with the Body of Christ, &c. Alleluja, Alleluja.
Praise the Lord all ye nations, Alleluja, Alleluja.

[The antiphon "Nourished," given above was to be here recited in full.

The psalm Laudate was to be recited here, to the Gloria.]

Glory (be to the Father, &c.)
Nourished by the Body of Christ. Alleluja, Alleluja.
Both now and for evermore.
Nourished, &c.
Offer unto God the sacrifice of justice, and hope in the Lord.
O God, we render thanks to Thee, through whom we have celebrated the Holy Mysteries, and we supplicate at thy hands the gifts of Holiness. Have mercy on us, O Lord, O Saviour of the world. Who reigneth unto all ages Amen. The end.

I need not call the reader's attention to the clear proof afforded by this fragment to the belief of our early church in the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. The word "Sacorfaice," i.e. sacrifice, which is here employed to designate the Blessed Eucharist, was constantly used by our ancient writers in reference as well to Communion as to the Holy Sacrifice. This is admitted by Usher in his "Religion of the ancient Irish." "They used," he says, " the name of sacrifice indifferently of that which was offered to God, and of that which was given to and received by the Communicant," and he gives the following instances from our early writers. In the collection of Canons, made for the Irish Church about the year 700, permission is granted to a Bishop to bequeath by testament a portion of his goods "to the Priest that giveth him the Sacrifice." Again, in one of the Synods of St. Patrick, the following canon occurs:

" He who deserveth not to receive the sacrifice during his life, how can it help him after his death." And in the Commentary of Sedulius the phrase also occurs " Await one for another, i.e. (adds Sedulius) until you receive the Sacrifice."

At the close of the Book of Deer, the Apostles' Creed is inserted in full in the handwriting of the original scribe. It will not be uninteresting to the reader to insert it in full, as it too forms part of the sacred Liturgy, and presents some curious readings peculiar to this MS.

Credo in Deum patrem omnipotentem creatorem caeli et terrae. Et in Jesum Christum filium ejus unicum Dominum nostrum qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto. Natus ex Maria Virgine, passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus et sepultus, descendit ad inferna. Tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit in caelum, sedit ad dexteram Dei patris omnipotentis. Inde venturus est judicare viros et mortuos. Credo et in Spiritum Sanctum, sanctamque Ecclesiam Catholicam, sanctorum Communionem, remissionem peccatorum. Carnis resurectionis vitam aeternam. Amen."


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Br. Jack+, LC said...

I just want to say, "Thank you!" You are doing important work here. It's value is unmeasurable. Keep it up.

God's Peace be with you.

Marcella said...

Thanks for your support. There are many more posts in the pipeline.