19th June 2023
The Tarbat Discovery Centre announced an award from The National Lottery Heritage Fund of almost £100,000 to create four new pages emulating 8th century insular manuscripts and conduct extensive school and community outreach activities.
The museum based in Portmahomack, Easter Ross, sits on the site of an early medieval monastery and is home to Pictish carvings and artefacts excavated from the site between 1995 and 2006. These excavations have also found evidence that early medieval manuscripts were likely made at the monastery. Some scholars think that the Book of Kells — an important illuminated manuscript, produced about 800 AD containing the four Gospels of the New Testament with extravagant, complex imagery, currently on display at Trinity College, Dublin — may have been created at Tarbat.
This ‘Stories on Skins’ project will produce four manuscript pages describing Gaelic origin legends using traditional methods of making pigments, parchment, and techniques likely used by the medieval monks.
The project will offer craft workshops and Gaelic storytelling activities delivered at schools, in local communities, and to visitors at the Tarbat Discovery Centre, as well as a permanent exhibition at the museum. The exhibition will be officially launched on Friday 18th August 2023 when the first manuscript page will be highlighted and Thomas Keyes, Lead Craftsman for the project, will deliver a lecture about the manuscript-making process.
Over the following 18 months, the public are invited to take part in hands-on, on-site experimental sessions, including growing woad for manuscript pigment, creating seaweed lye for parchment making, and making medieval ink.
More details of the events over the next two years will be released on the Tarbat Discovery Centre website (www.tarbat-discovery.co.uk) and social media.
The culmination of the project will be in 2024 when the Tarbat Discovery Centre celebrates 25 years since it was opened by His Majesty King Charles III (then-HRH The Prince of Wales, Duke of Rothesay). The new manuscript pages will form the centrepiece of a series of events that will be held to celebrate the museum’s anniversary.
Calum Thomson, Chair of the Trustees at the Tarbat Historic Trust said: “We are extremely excited to be working in collaboration with Thomas Keyes to enable him to recreate these insular manuscripts and to allow us to share the importance of Portmahomack in the production of these wonderful texts.”
Caroline Clark, Heritage Fund Director for Scotland, said: "This project brings history to life with a programme that explores Portmahomack's role in the creation of these ancient manuscripts and demonstrates the work that goes into recreating them. The craft and storytelling workshops add to that with opportunities to experience the technology and culture of medieval Scotland 1200 years ago. It is thanks to National Lottery players that we are supporting this project and I am sure many of them will find the questions it raises on the origins of the Book of Kells as fascinating as we do."
Thomas Keyes, Lead Craftsman for the Stories on Skins project, said: “This project provides an incredible opportunity to create a manuscript at Tarbat Discovery Centre. You cannot get closer to the world of the scribes that created the Book of Kells than at this site.”