The Aberdeen Breviary: A National Treasure

The Aberdeen Breviary is a highly significant book for a number of reasons. Initiated by King James IV and compiled by Bishop William Elphinstone, it is Scotland’s first printed book, published in Edinburgh in 1510. It also represents the most in depth collection of information on the lives and stories of Scottish Saints. Our copy is one of five known remaining original copies making it a key addition to our Iconics Collection.

The aim for the book was that it would become a national breviary of Scotland, giving the Scottish Church a distinct position within international Catholicism. It also reflected King James IV’s interest in moving towards a centralised modern state. The impact of the Aberdeen Breviary however was never properly felt in Scotland in the way in which James IV and Bishop Elphinstone had intended. This was partly due to elements of social disintegration after a Scottish defeat to the English at the Battle of Flodden, and the death of James IV in 1513 and Bishop Elphinstone in 1514 shortly after publication. Helen Vincent, Senior Rare Books Curator at the National Library of Scotland, stated that the Aberdeen Breviary, was ‘one of the great neglected achievements of the period.’

The breviary is no doubt of great interest to historians, folklorists, genealogists, archaeologists and many other scholars so we are delighted that it is now digitised and available to view in its entirety on our online image archive – here. Amazingly the breviary still has not yet been translated from Latin to English….now there is a project to be encouraged!

John Bryden

Digital Imaging Unit


Further Reading:

Alan MacQuarrie, ed., Legends of Scottish Saints: Readings, Hymns and Prayers for the Commemorations of Scottish Saints in the Aberdeen Breviary (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012) –

NLS – Aberdeen Breviary


  1. John Gowrie said:

    This should be translated and a English/Scots copy made available free to everyone

    February 19, 2023
  2. Andrew Wallace said:

    Alan Maquarrie did a translation according to Google.

    April 26, 2023

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