A rare book, one of only of a handful known to be in Scotland, has been identified in a Deeside community.
The lectern bible, dating from 1717, was found during the ‘Aye, it wis aabody’ project which is exploring the history of Finzean Primary School, and Birse links with slavery in the Caribbean.
Regarded as one of the finest printed in the UK, the bible was a lavishly illustrated folio imprint from the Oxford printer John Baskett.
However, the edition contained errors and omissions, which led to them being known as ‘vinegar bibles’, after one of the inaccuracies.
The copy in Birse is embossed on the cover with ‘The gift of the Rev Gilbert Ramsay of Barbadoes [sic] to the parish church of Birse in Scotland’.
Ramsay was from the parish but spent nearly all his working life in the Caribbean, in Antigua from 1689, and Barbados from 1692, where he was rector of Christ Church until his death in 1727.
He gifted £4800 in his will to the parish and Marischal College, with annual interest from £500 to build a school and pay the teacher’s salary, and the same again for a poor fund.
As part of the ‘Aye, it wis aabody’ project, a community research group has been studying the life of Ramsay and nearly 300 years of school history.
Researcher Sian Loftus said: “While we have been unable to establish with any certainty who Ramsay’s parents were or where they lived, it is clear from the gifting of such a valuable book to the parish that he felt a very close affection with Birse.
“The identification of the bible, which was known to be in the collection, as a ‘vinegar bible’ is one more clue in our search for records into Gilbert Ramsay’s life.”
The rarity of the bibles has led to the formation of a Vinegar Bible Interest Group by founding members Christ Church, Shrewsbury, New Jersey, and St John’s Anglican Church, Nova Scotia.
The Birse bible was recently moved from the community archive to the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archive.
An Archive spokesperson said: “We are pleased to be able to offer a temporary home for this rare item with its fascinating history, in line with our mission to preserve and provide access to significant records relating to the North East of Scotland alongside the historical records of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils.”