Scriptorium opens in grounds of Arbroath Abbey

·3-min read
The New Scriptorium is located in the grounds of Arbroath Abbey (Neil Hanna/PA)
The New Scriptorium is located in the grounds of Arbroath Abbey (Neil Hanna/PA)

A new studio space for writers has been unveiled in the grounds of an abbey as part of celebrations for the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.

Created by artist Bobby Niven, the New Scriptorium is inspired by the power and influence of the medieval abbey around which the town of Arbroath has grown.

It is the first time in more than 500 years that there has been a working scriptorium – which in the past was a writing room where scribes could copy manuscripts – in the grounds of the abbey.

The New Scriptorium will be a studio space for writers, poets and local literary groups, with a programme of public events managed by Hospitalfield.

The space will be used by writers (Neil Hanna/PA)
The space will be used by writers (Neil Hanna/PA)

The New Scriptorium was commissioned by the Arbroath 2020 Group as part of the 700th anniversary of the declaration in 2020, and is now ready to host writers after being delayed by the pandemic.

Niven said: “We know that Arbroath Abbey had a very large and active community, including monks who could transcribe and illuminate documents and bound early manuscripts into books.

“The ability to read and write and convey information and document history was as powerful then as it is today and I wanted to reflect that activity in the design of the interior space.

“A large roof window floods the space with light and the serpentine arm motifs inspired by the use of manicules as notation devices in manuscripts bring colour to the floor and walls.

“The framing of the abbey in the scriptorium’s windows connect the two buildings, providing context for the writers in residence.”

Written in 1320 by Scottish barons and freeholders, the Declaration of Arbroath asked the Pope to recognise Scotland’s independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king.

Historic Environment Scotland, Angus Place Partnership, Angus Council and Hospitalfield are also involved in the project, which has been funded through the Town Centre Fund and Creative Scotland.

Lucy Byatt, director of Hospitalfield and member of Arbroath 2020+1, said: “As so many of us work together to consider the future of our town centres in these changing times, we first have to consider the existing assets.

“Here in Arbroath we are so fortunate to have a high street that has so many wonderful places dotted along it; from the astonishing abbey at the top to the harbour complete with the Mackay Boat Builders, one of Scotland’s last working boat yards at the ‘Fit O The Town’.

“Our challenge is to work towards getting all these places and people to work together to give a new vision to this historic town.

“We hope that this new commission by Bobby Niven will help with this aim and we look forward very much to working with Historic Environment Scotland to develop the programme for the New Scriptorium over the next two years.”

The New Scriptorium will host local literary groups, including the Angus Writers’ Circle, as well as visiting writers in residence, while a public programme of events will start in July.

To coincide with its opening, Hospitalfield has commissioned a new work by Katie Guthrie, who goes by the artist name KMG, to line the way to the scriptorium.

This was made possible with the Year of Stories Community Stories Fund, through VisitScotland.

Scottish culture minister Neil Gray said: “Our historic environment, culture and literature play an important part in shaping our future and this stunning scriptorium is part of a legacy that will benefit generations to come.”

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