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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Reformation Exhibition

25th August 2011

The University of Edinburgh is staging a major free exhibition that explores the world of the Scottish Reformation, including the music, song and language of the day. Called ‘Singing The Reformation’ the exhibition brings together for the first time all eight part books of the world-famous Thomas Wode Psalter. Thomas Wode, who was vicar of St Andrews, was originally a monk but joined the Reformation movement in 1560. In that year, a Protestant, English-backed faction forced regime change in Scotland and passed a series of acts abolishing the papal authority and establishing a Church of Scotland. This regime change led to a political alignment that suited the previously isolated English elite and had important cultural consequences for Scotland, including its languages. Jane Dawson, who is the John Laing Professor of Reformation History at Edinburgh, commented: “The Reformation in Scotland has often been blamed for speeding up the Anglicisation of the language, but the story is more complex and the process more subtle than this bald characterisation.” Thomas Wode spent the years between 1562 and 1592 collecting 106 metrical psalms from various sources and produced the part books setting the psalms to music. He also added invaluable notations, written in Scots, commenting on the music and song of that period. Between 1606 and 1625 additions were made to these beautifully illustrated books. Professor Dawson hopes that visitors to the exhibition will appreciate the various cultural interconnections and further commented: “Placing the Wode Psalter (written in Scots and one of Scotland’s cultural treasures in the centre), the exhibition helps people step into the world of Reformation Scotland. It reveals the complex interaction between the sung, spoken, written and printed words during this period of religious and linguistic transition within Scotland.”

The exhibition contains a number of highlights directly relevant to the Scots language including ‘The Art of Music’ written c.1580, Hamilton’s Catechism (1552), John Knox’s ‘History of the Reformation in Scotland’ (original manuscript c.1566-71), ‘The order of the General Fast (1587) and various metrical psalters printed 1563-1635. There are also quotes in Scots contained within the exhibition’s information boards. These various works provide plenty of evidence for the ways in which the spellings and words of English texts were changed to suit the pronunciation of Scots speakers.

The exhibition is located in the Main Library Exhibition Room, University of Edinburgh, George Square, and runs from 6 August until 28 October 2011. Visitors can view Monday- Saturday, 10am-5pm, during August, and Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm during September and October.

A CD of ‘The Wode Collection’ is available from the University Visitor Centre, Crichton Street for £10 or can be downloaded from Linn Record at or you might like to look at the Iphone App