Carrow Psalter

Carrow Psalter

East Anglia (England) — Mid. 13th century

A true gem of early English Gothic: portraits of saints, their martyrdoms and biblical stories from the Creation of Man to the Last Judgement in 26 full-page miniatures on a precious golden backgrounds

  1. A gem of Early English Gothic in East Anglia for an unknown patron with a special veneration of St. Olaf

  2. The psalter-hours contain typical components of both a psalter and a book of hours

  3. Adorned with three splendid picture cycles comprising a total of 26 full-page miniatures and countless historiated and ornamental initials

Carrow Psalter

Facsimile Copy Available!
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(7,000€ - 10,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Carrow Psalter

The precious psalter-hours known as Carrow Psalter were created in East Anglia in the mid-13th century. It contains both the typical components of a psalter and prayer texts that are usually found in books of hours, and is also magnificently and elaborately furnished with 26 gold-decorated full-page miniatures in opulent frames, which together make up three enthralling picture cycles. Written by a most gifted hand, the texts are organized and adorned by numerous historiated and ornamental initials. The manuscript takes its name from the Benedictine nunnery of Carrow near Norwich, where it was located in the 15th century and where some smaller details were added. Its lavish illumination makes the Carrow Psalter a true gem of Early Gothic book illumination in England.

Carrow Psalter

When opening this precious devotional book, the eye is first greeted by the gilded splendor of three impressive picture cycles. The first pages of the manuscript are taken up by ten full-page depictions of saints, each of which is juxtaposed with a corresponding suffrage. Most of the saints stand in pairs and frontally under pointed arch arcades and are easy to identify thanks to their attributes and the golden headlines. Only King Edmund, Thomas Becket and St. Agatha appear individually and during their gruesome martyrdom. A lost leaf probably also showed Mary Magdalene, whose suffrage can still be found in this first part of the Carrow Psalter.

Biblical Scenes on Golden Backgrounds

The following picture cycles do without any text at all. The first eleven of these full-page miniatures, some of which are divided into two to four registers, present a condensed but no less splendid overview of the Christian salvific history from the creation of man to the Last Judgement. The third cycle takes up five events from the life of Christ and presents them in wonderful full-page images. Here, the focus is on stories from Jesus' early days. Thus, the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Adoration by the Three Magi and the Presentation in the Temple are depicted, followed by the Carrying of the Cross.

Clues to the Patron

After this opulent opening and a calendar, the actual Psalter begins, consisting of the biblical psalms and canticles of the Old and New Testaments. It is decorated with countless gold and blue pen-flourished initials and wonderful large historiated initials, the first of which at the beginning of the Book of Psalms gives us a clue to the unknown patron. In six gold-grounded roundels, the more than half-page sized initial 'B' shows scenes from the Vita of St. Olaf, who, as King of Norway, Christianized his kingdom after he himself was missionized, and whose distinctive feature is the axe. This prominent depiction testifies to a particular veneration of the saint, who may have been the namesake of the patron saint.

Precious Psalter-Hours

The psalms and canticles are followed by several prayer texts that are rather unusual in this context, such as the Office of the Dead and the Hours of the Virgin (lat. Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis), which is why it is also referred to as a psalter-hours. When the manuscript was located in the eponymous Carrow Abbey, a Benedictine nunnery near Norwich, in the 15th century, the coats of arms of English aristocrats were added to eleven initials of the Marian prayer, including those of the Earl of Winchester, the Earl of Oxford and the Baron of Stafford. Moreover, the coat of arms of St. George appears on fol. 288v.

Lively History of Ownership

In the 18th century, the codex came into the possession of the 3rd Lord Caryll, John Baptist (1716–1780), who had it rebound. The precious gem then passed through the hands of various renowned collectors, including Bertram Ashburnham (1797–1878), the 4th Earl of Ashburnham, and Henry Yates Thompson (1838–1928), before Henry Walters (1848–1931), founder of the Walters Art Gallery, now Walters Art Museum, where it is kept today, was able to purchase the psalter-hours.


Alternative Titles
Salterio benedettino
Size / Format
642 pages / 24.7 × 17.6 cm
Mid. 13th century
Gothic Textura prescissa
26 full-page miniatures, 11 historiated initials, numerous ornamental decorated initials, 11 of which have coats of arms added later
Suffrages for saints, two prefatory picture cycles, calendar, psalms, canticles, litany, petitions and collects, Office of the Dead, Hours of the Virgin, Psalter of the Virgin
Previous Owners
Carrow Priory, Norwich; John Baptist, 3rd Lord Caryll; George Galway Mills; Reverend David T. Powell; Bertram Ashburnham, 4th Earl of Ashburnham; Henry Yates Thompson; Bernard Quaritch; Henry Walters

Available facsimile editions:
Imago – Rimini, 2024
Limited Edition: 300 copies
Facsimile Editions

#1 Salterio benedettino

Imago – Rimini, 2024

Publisher: Imago – Rimini, 2024
Limited Edition: 300 copies
Binding: Green velvet binding with gilt and engraved brass plaque, set with lapis lazuli, jade and carnelian gemstones.
Commentary: 1 volume (in preparation)
Language: Italian
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of 74 folios of the original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€€
(7,000€ - 10,000€)
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