Paris Psalter

Paris Psalter  Facsimile Edition

Probably Wessex, England (United Kingdom) — Second half of the 11th century

A bilingual Old English Psalter from the library of Duc Jean de Berry: unusually tall and narrow with 13 pen drawings integrated into the text as well as blue, green, and gold initials

  1. This manuscript was created during the mid-11th century in England, possibly Wessex

  2. The text is written in two columns: Latin on the left and the West-Saxon dialect on the right

  3. King Alfred the Great (848/49–899) is traditionally credited with having created the translation

Paris Psalter

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Paris Psalter

Created during the mid-11th century in England, possibly Wessex, the Paris Psalter is distinguished from other Psalters because it is an unusually tall and thin codex that incorporates 13 pen and ink drawings in the text, which is also adorned by blue, green, and golden initials. The text is written in two columns: the left column has the Latin text of the Psalter with the first fifty Psalms paraphrased in West-Saxon prose while the rest of the Psalms are translated into a metrical form of Anglo-Saxon. The West-Saxon translation is traditionally attributed to King Alfred the Great and the Psalter’s prose and poetic vernacular was influential and widely studied throughout England. In 1402, the coveted manuscript was listed in the inventory of the library of the famous bibliophile Duke Jean de Berry.

Paris Psalter

An unusual manuscript in an unusually elongated format measuring 52.6 x 18.6 cm: this famous and unique dual-language Psalter was originally made for a Benedictine Abbey, probably a women’s cloister, which is unusual because most Psalters were made for the use of the laity. The Latin text according to the Roman Rite appears in the left columns and the Anglo-Saxon translation in the right columns. This bilingual text represents the first real translation of the original Latin of the Book of Psalms, rather than merely representing a gloss with Old English corresponding word for word with the original Latin text.

The Work of Alfred the Great?

An inscription on the last page of the text informs us that “Wulfwinus (and according to an interlinear interjection “that is, by the surname Cadas”) wrote down this Psalter song of the famous King David, the priest of God. Whoever reads what is written, let his soul make a wish.” However, this scribe was not the original translator. According to the William of Malmesbury (ca. 1095 – ca. 1143), the principal historian in 12th century England, the text was originally translated by Alfred the Great (848/849–899), the learned King of the English and great foe of the Vikings, but this claim remains contested. Nonetheless, the Paris Psalter not only represents a fascinating unicum of late Anglo-Saxon book art but also a priceless artifact of the English language.

Fascinating Imagery Interwoven in the Text

The 13 pen and ink drawings that are integrated into the text of the first seven Psalms are remarkably detailed, artistically refined, and possess a certain charm. They obviously originated from a skilled, yet anonymous hand and the reason why the rest of the manuscript was not furnished with them remains unknown. Some of these images are typical of what one would expect, such as Christ emerging from the clouds above four terrified men and a man with a chalice leading a goat to a sacrificial altar. Other images are more unusual or imaginative including one showing the hand of God holding a pair of compasses or a man shooting arrows at a pair of lovers.

History of Ownership

This highly coveted manuscript was one of many owned by the famous bibliophile Duke John of Berry (1340–1416). Although first few centuries of the manuscript’s history remain unknown, as does under what circumstances it came to France, an ex-libris on fol. 186 states simply “This book belongs to the Duc de Berry, Jehan” and an entry in inventory of the Librairie du Duc de Berry dated August 17, 1402 reads: “Item a very old Psalter, long, with a history of Roman work and at the beginning of David playing the harp and on the fueilletz painted with arms of France and of Boulogne, covered with old silk…” The manuscript was part of the donation made by the Duke to the Sainte-Chapelle of Bourges by letters patent of 1404, and a 1552 inventory from there identifies it as the Psalterium Davidis and was identified once more in 1708 as “The Hours of Duke Jean” when it was still at Sainte-Chapelle in Bourges.
In 1752, the manuscript was donated by the canons of Bourges to the Bibliothèque du Roi, the inventory of which notes the receipt on the 8th of August that year of “A long fol. vol. containing the two-column Psalter comprising the Latin version and an Anglo- Saxon version:” It was probably at this point that the codex was rebound because the front and back covers of the 18th century binding are painted with the French royal coat-of-arms and cipher. Additionally, PSALTERI ANGLOSAXONICUM is printed in gold on the spine along with tendrils incorporating fleurs-de-lys and crowns. Today the manuscript is stored in the successor institution of the Bibliothèque du Roi, the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Paris-Psalter
Psalterium duplex, latinum et anglo-saxonicum
Latin 8824
Size / Format
374 pages / 52.6 × 18.6 cm
Date
Second half of the 11th century
Style
Language
Script
Carolingian minuscule
Illustrations
13 pen drawings; Large golden initials at the beginning of the psalms and hymns; Small golden, blue and green initials at the beginning of each verse
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Paris Psalter  – Rosenkilde and Bagger – Ms. lat. 8824 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France) Facsimile Edition
Rosenkilde and Bagger – Copenhagen, 1958
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Paris Psalter

Rosenkilde and Bagger – Copenhagen, 1958

Publisher: Rosenkilde and Bagger – Copenhagen, 1958
Commentary: 1 volume by Bertram Colgrave
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
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