The Brodie Pontifical
In June 1970, Mrs Helena Brodie of Brodie was in the old stables at Brodie Castle looking for a chair which she thought might match with three others in the Castle. The stables had not been explored for many years and they were known to contain a lot of junk, and some ‘rubbishy old books’. Mrs Brodie could not find the matching chair, but beneath a pigeon’s nest, she found the old books. She realised at once that they were very old and took them down to inspect.
Five volumes were of a seventeenth century atlas, and were recognised immediately for their importance. The significance of one of the others was not, at first released. One was a very old religious text. The Revd George Sessford, the Episcopal Rector of St John’s in nearby Forres (and later Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness), knew at once that it was a book of some importance, and was sent off to be identified and authenticated by the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. They identified it as a previously unrecorded tenth-century English religious manuscript, a working Pontifical, which only a Bishop would have used. It contained some words in Kentish suggesting it may have originated in Canterbury before the year 1000AD.
Experts called it the most important find of its kind in the twentieth century. Only six other examples of comparable manuscripts from this period have survived, and they are all in great public collections, mainly in France. Sotheby’s later sold the Pontifical on behalf of Brodie of Brodie the following year, describing it is as “extraordinarily rare”.
In it, when discovered, was the fragment of a seventeenth century letter which mentions the ‘harbour at Peeterhead’ indicating it was in Scotland at that time. By 1700, it was in the possession of Revd Hugh Anderson, the minister of Drainie (north of Elgin). He bequeathed it to Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun but, after his death in 1772, it disappeared.
What is so extraordinary is that a manuscript of this importance should have been lying for so long, undiscovered in Scottish castle. Nobody has yet been able to establish how it there and no one has ever come with a logical answer as to why such valuable property lay for so long in the stables, especially as the castle possesses a magnificent library.
The mystery may never be solved. The manuscript now known as the Anderson Pontifical is in the British Library.