Abbey Psalters

The psalter, was the most characteristic type of richly illuminated book produced in England during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, it was a beautiful, painstakingly crafted, work of art. In the 14th Century Ramsey Abbey, owned about 100 psalter manuscripts, according to its library cataloguer. Only three are known to survive.

One of these, a psalter of the first years of the fourteenth century, is now divided between the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York and the Abbey of St Paul in Lavantthal, Carinthia Austria. These two parts apparently remained together ( although it was already in Germany by the fifteenth century ) until some time after 1809 ( when the manuscript was owned by the Abbey of St Paul ) when five leaves were removed. It is assumed that they were taken for commercial reasons and since they occurred before the calendar ( possibly positioned there by the sixteenth century binder ), they were not conspicuous by their absence: the manuscript, even minus the these pictures, would have seemed complete since most medieval prayer books begin directly with a calendar.

When the five prefatory folios were bought by J. Pierpont Morgan in 1907, they were nicely bound up into a red velvet-covered book. What attracted him to the folios was their apparent English origins, especially the inclusion of the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket. (23)

The Pierpont Morgan manuscript, MS 302 consists of 5 leaves of prefatory miniatures and the Abbey of St Paul in Lavantthal, Stiftsbibl. cod. XXV/2, 19 consists of a calendar, one prefatory leaf of miniatures and psalter text with historiated initials and borders.

The Second psalter

This is now owned owned by Cambridge Corpus Christi College, it is manuscript MS 468, a Latin-Greek psalter of c. 1250 with decorated initials. All Corpus Christi Medieval books have been digitised, to explore this Psalter click this link.

The Third psalter

is at Holkham Hall in Norfolk, it’s the Earl of Leicester MS 26, second half of the fourteenth century, with historiated initials.

There is one other, at the British Library, MS Harley 2904, which is thought to be the Psalter of St Oswald cited in the Ramsey catalogue. This is called the Winchester psalter.

This book, written in the late tenth century, is known as ‘The Ramsey Psalter’, although it is now thought that it might have been made at Winchester, perhaps commissioned by the Ramsey monks or made to be a gift for them from some wealthy individual.

If this is correctly attributed to Ramsey Abbey, then this would bring the number of surviving psalters up to four.

(Ref 21)