St Benedict's Abbey (Fort Augustus) Collection


St Benedict's Abbey (Fort Augustus) Collection


This collection of 759 printed volumes represents the most significant part of the collection of some 6,900 mainly pre-1801 volumes from the library of St Benedict's Abbey, Fort Augustus. St Benedict's Abbey, founded in 1876 at Fort Augustus, at the southern end of Loch Ness, was a re-foundation of the Irish, and later (after 1515) Scots, monastery of St James at Ratisbon (Regensburg) in Bavaria, which was suppressed in 1862. The new monastery building at Fort Augustus, completed in 1880, was originally a military fort, the site having been given by Simon Fraser, 13th Lord Lovat to the Benedictines. One wing of the building was used as a boarding school for boys, the school being in operation until 1993. The link between Fort Augustus and Ratisbon can be in seen in the surviving books and manuscripts which tradition says were transported to Scotland in the early 1860s by one of the last two remaining monks at St James's, Father Anselm Robertson. Eventually, in the late 1870s, these books and manuscripts became the historic core of the library in the new monastery at Fort Augustus. The Benedictine monks were able to make significant additions to that first collection, attracting gifts from a variety of sources including the neighbourhood and prominent Catholics elsewhere, and most notably they became custodians of a collection brought together in Dublin in the 19th century by an Irish Franciscan, Thomas Cassidy. The Cassidy Collection, which was part of the 1992 deposit, remains in the National Library on long-term deposit and forms a separate collection (see Cassidy Collection).

The purchased printed collection is strong in theology, church history, devotional and liturgical works, but also includes volumes of English and French literature and history, travel, architectural works and finely illustrated books. There are three incunabula and 54 printed books known from their inscriptions to have come from Ratisbon. One of these books is a copy of Patrick Abercromby's 'The Martial Atchievements of the Scots Nation', vol.1 (Edinburgh, 1711), donated by the author in the year of publication, it is also inscribed by the Order of St Benedict at Westthorn Mills, a Roman Catholic Reformatory near Glasgow where the books from Ratisbon had a temporary resting place. Other rare Scottish books include an edition of Castellion's 'Dialogorum sacrorum libri IV', a collection of Bible stories in dialogue form for schoolchildren and often used as a Latin reader, printed in Edinburgh in 1709. Also of Scottish interest is 'Afbeeldingen en beschryvingen van Alle Geestelyke en wereldlyke ordens, zedert haare stichting tot op onzen tyd' (Amsterdam, 1791). This book, of which no other copy has been traced, includes a section on the dress and regalia of the Order of the Thistle.

Around 100 items from the library at Craigston Castle found their way to Fort Augustus, many of which were acquired by William Urquhart (1741-1796) of Craigston who owned 2 West Indian plantations with an enslaved population of 200. The books are mostly fine 18th-century works such as Charles Cordiner's 'Remarkable Ruins, and Romantic prospects, of North Britain', vol. 1 (London, 1788), and an English version of part of Buffon's 'Histoire naturelle' (The Natural History of the Horse) (London, 1762). Of slightly different origin is a 'Greek menology' (a liturgical book with lives of the saints arranged by months), a label, fortunately preserved with the book, reveals that it was presented to the Abbey by one Sergeant Grant, presumably a soldier from the district. Another early benefactor was Brother Basil Weld, a member of a prominent English Catholic family, whose gifts included a volume of late 16th- and early 17th-century engravings which has the additional distinction of having being owned by the architect Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79), the foremost exponent of the Gothic revival in France and restorer of Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle.


The books have been catalogued individually and have the shelfmark 'SBA.'. Some volumes acquired separately from the NLHF-funded purchase are shelved as SBA.Add. The incunabula are part of the Library's Incunabula Collection.


The collection was deposited in the Library in 1992, with additions over the following years. Following the closure of the Abbey in 1998, the selection of books and manuscripts which form the current collection was purchased by the Library in 2000, with the co-operation of the Trustees of St Benedict's Abbey and the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund (now National Lottery Heritage Fund). The remainder of the books deposited in the Library in 1992, and the substantial quantity of mainly post-1800 books that had remained at St Benedict's Abbey, were dispersed in 2000 and 2001, partly at public auction and partly by private sale.

Related collections

Thirteen manuscript items were purchased in 2000, including a volume of patristic texts written in 1080 by the Irish Benedictine monk Marianus, the founder of the Community at Ratisbon. This contains, in Marianus's hand, the earliest written Gaelic words to be found in any work currently held in Scotland. Another manuscript book originally from Ratisbon is a translation into Scots, made in 1596 by Father James Dalrymple, of the Latin text of John Leslie's 'De origine, moribus et rebus gestis Scotorum libri decem' (Rome, 1578), important as a Scots language text. The manuscripts acquired at a later date by the Abbey at Fort Augustus include a 15th-century Book of Hours that belonged to Mary of Guise, Queen Consort of James V. This Book of Hours was given by Lord Ralph Kerr, third son of the 7th marquess of Lothian, who also presented six printed books. The manuscripts are held at Acc. 11218.


'A medley of memories: fifty years' recollections of a Benedictine monk', Sir D Hunter Blair, London, 1919.

'The Scots in Franconia: a century of monastic life', M Dilworth, Edinburgh, 1974.

'Craigston and Meldrum estates, Carriacou, 1769-1841' in 'Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland', 114 (1984), 481-537, H Gordon Slade.

Online resources

Books and manuscripts from St Benedict's Abbey, Fort Augustus




Catholic Church

French history, language and literature

Incunables (in NLS collections)

Liturgical works