Reformation's Wode manuscripts reunited after 400 years apart

A RARE collection of musical texts is set to be reunited for the first time in 400 years in Scotland's capital this summer.

The Wode manuscripts, elaborately decorated texts illustrated with Renaissance musicians, angels and strange creatures, date back to the mid-16th century. They chart one of the most turbulent periods in Scottish history, when the Protestant church rose to prominence under the leadership of John Knox.

The eight manuscripts, all the work of celebrated cleric Thomas Wode, vicar of St Andrews, are held in four cities around the world.

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But they will go on display together at Edinburgh University after officials at Georgetown University in the United States, Trinity College in Dublin and the British Library in London reached an agreement with curators for them to come to the city on loan.

Some of the manuscripts are already held in the university's own collection and in the archives of the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The manuscripts - also known by musical historians as the "St Andrews Psalter" - were composed by Wode, a Catholic monk turned Presbyterian minister, between 1562 and 1592 in the aftermath of the Reformation.

The harmonisations of 106 psalms from the Anglo-Genevan Psalm Book and other songs were said to have created the "gold standard" for post- Reformation devotion in Scotland.

Experts behind the forthcoming exhibition, which will be held at the university library from 6 August to 28 October, believe that without Wode's efforts, much of the music heard in the Royal Court and in Scotland's churches would have been lost forever.

Jane Dawson, professor of Reformation history at Edinburgh University, said: "This exhibition celebrates an ordinary man and his extraordinary legacy. Without Wode, Scotland's treasure store of music would be much poorer. Thanks to these beautifully illustrated manuscripts, we have a fascinating insight into Scottish history.

"This exhibition is a remarkable opportunity for people to see these fascinating manuscripts all together for the first time in 400 years."

The Wode manuscripts set the 106 psalms to four-part harmonies. A concert performance of work drawn from the Wode manuscripts will be performed during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, at St Giles' Cathedral, where Knox gave many of his most celebrated pulpit sermons.The same venue was the focal point for many of last year's events to mark the official 450th anniversary of the Reformation, which effectively saw Scotland transformed from a Catholic country to a Protestant one.

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The exhibition, Singing The Reformation, also features 16th-century musical instruments, such as a sackbut - a type of trombone - recorder and lute.

Also on display are rare books and manuscripts, including the first book printed in Gaelic, the first psalm book printed in Scotland and early books on musical theory.