MS M.302 fol.4v

Reproduced with kind permission of the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

Upper compartment:

Thomas à Becket: murdered before High Altar – Three soldiers, wearing armor, armed with three swords and two shields, attack Thomas à Becket, wearing vestments. One soldier strikes head of Thomas. He kneels with hands raised beside draped altar behind which is Chaplain Grim, holding cross-staff in right hand. Lamp above altar hangs from architectural frame.

Scene is flanked by bishop, wearing miter and vestments, possibly Oswald of York, right hand raised, holding model of church in draped left hand, and Apostle Paul, pearled nimbus, holding book in left hand and sword in right hand.

Lower compartment:

Bishop, possibly Oswald of York, wearing miter and vestments, right hand raised, holding staff in left hand, is seated on bench, feet on ram. Beside him sits a tonsured abbot, possibly Ednoth of Ramsey, wearing vestments, holding crozier in right hand and open book with pseudo-inscriptions in left hand on left knee, feet on bull.

They are flanked by Catherine of Alexandria, crowned, pearled nimbus, holding wheel in left hand, and Margaret of Antioch, crowned, pearled nimbus, holding book in draped left hand and cross-staff in right hand, standing on dragon.

All scenes and figures with patterned backgrounds decorated with rosettes and within architectural frame

This page of the Psalter is very unusual in that the subject matter is not Biblical. It pictures the legend of the founding of Ramsey Abbey and the subsequent naming of the Parish Church.

The upper section shows the four knights striking down Henry’s “turbulent priest” Thomas a Becket in the year 1170 AD. The murder shocked Christendom, Thomas was canonised three years later and gained a wide following.

When the hospitium of the Abbey was converted to become the Parish Church, around the year 1210, it was dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury.

On the right hand side is a figure of St. Paul and on the left hand side a Bishop holding a model of a church. (Ramsey Church perhaps?).

The lower section shows seated, with his feet on a ram, Archbishop Oswald of York, one of the founders of the Abbey. Also seated is the first elected Abbot, Ednoth. The Abbot has his feet on a bull recalling the miraculous dream in which St. Benedict directed Duke Ailwyn, co—founder and benefactor, “To build an altar with a house for guests on the spot where he observed a bull upon rising, to strike the earth with his right foot”

The Abbey was dedicated to The Virgin Mary, to St. Benedict and to all Holy Virgins. The Holy Virgins are represented in the miniature by St. Catherine to the left and St. Margaret to the right, both Saints being martyrs from early Roman times.

The Abbey’s foundation followed the closure of two of the three religious houses in East Northamptonshire, probably in order to spread the influence and control of the Church into Huntingdonshire, where there had previously been no representation.

The Ramsey Abbey Heritage Group, June 1989. (Ref 14)