Ramsey Psalter

Ramsey Psalter Facsimile Edition

Ramsey Abbey (United Kindgom) — Last quarter of the 13th century

Created by English artist-monks for their own use at Ramsey Abbey: a unique Psalter with beautiful miniatures of fine Gothic figures of unparalleled vividness

  1. Produced by the monks of Ramsey Abbey for their own use, this codex is generously adorned with gold leaf

  2. The 12 miniatures are the most famous feature with 40 episodes from the Old and New Testaments

  3. The figures of the fine Gothic specimen lend the narrative a liveliness that is unparalleled in book production

Ramsey Psalter

  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Ramsey Psalter

A firework of Gothic artistry was produced in the late 13th century at the Benedictine Abbey of Ramsey near Cambridge: a Psalter intended for personal use, most of the miniature pages of which are now in New York and the remaining part in the Abbey of St. Paul in Carinthia. In the facsimile edition, both parts are brought together.
40 biblical scenes unfold on the 12 miniature pages. The upper part of the miniatures almost always consists of architectural ornamental forms in keeping with an early medieval tradition. Untypical, since not of biblical content, is the depiction on folio 4v of the history of the founding of the monastery, which includes the murder of Thomas Becket (1118-1170). The figures of the scenes possess great liveliness due to the expressiveness of their gestures and facial expressions. 12 splendid initials, countless grotesques, and stylized floral marginal illustrations complete the masterpiece.

Ramsey Psalter

The Benedictine Abbey of Ramsey founded in 969 by Ailwyn was one of the great centers of scholarship in the English-speaking world for many centuries. In this abbey, an elaborate codex known as the Ramsey Psalter was produced for the monastic community’s own use at the end of the 13th century. In the course of its turbulent history, the Ramsey Psalter experienced the same destiny as many other medieval manuscripts: five folios – nearly a complete illustrated cycle preceding the Psalms – were separated from the binding at some stage and finally found their way to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. The larger portion remained in the library of the Benedictine Abbey of Sankt Paul im Lavanttal (Carinthia, Austria).

The Pinnacle of Book Illumination

12 deluxe figural initials complete with perfectly inserted individual scenes; stylized floral marginal illustrations populated with tiny creatures; countless line endings, enlivened predominantly with grotesques, are all elements bearing testimony to the sheer inexhaustible imagination of the master who unfortunately remains anonymous. More than any other section, the illustrated cycle preceding the psalms deserves special mention. Its 12 miniature pages are filled with 40 episodes taken from the Old and the New Testaments to form a homogenous illustrated ensemble. From an artistic view, both these miniatures and the decorative apparatus of the Ramsey Psalter as a whole are of outstanding quality. The zestful movements of the figures, the articulation of their gestures and facial expressions, as well as the strong interaction between the individual protagonists lends the narrative a liveliness that is unparalleled in book production.

A Golden Manuscript

In addition, the book is lavishly decorated with exuberant gold: the gold leaf grounds are frequently enlivened with linear chasing and scattered patterns and are not limited to the miniatures alone, as is the case in other manuscripts, but are also found in the initials, in marginal decorations, and even in the shortest line fillings. This exquisite decoration makes the Ramsey Psalterone of the finest surviving examples of Gothic book illumination.


Alternative Titles
Size / Format
346 pages / 26.5 × 17.0 cm
Last quarter of the 13th century
12 deluxe figural initials, 12 miniature pages are filled with 40 episodes taken from the Old and the New Testaments, countless line endings, enlivened predominantly with grotesques
William of Grafham (documented 1285-1310)
Previous Owners
John of Sawtry (Abbot 1285–1316)

Available facsimile editions:
Ramsey Psalter – Cod. 58/1
MS. M.302 – Stift St. Paul Bibliothek (Lavanttal (Carinthia), Austria)
 / Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA) Facsimile Edition
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1996
Limited Edition: 280 copies
Detail Picture

Ramsey Psalter

David and Goliath

In the bas-de-page miniature of this page, a young David on the left is about to sling a stone at Goliath, who stands looking thoroughly unimpressed on the right. Above it, the historiated “Q” initial shows Goliath on his back as David places a foot on his chest with sword in hand just before cutting off the head of the giant Philistine warrior. Goliath is armed and armored in the manner of a 13th century mercenary while David wears the simple clothing of a contemporary English peasant.

Der Ramsey-Psalter
Single Page

Ramsey Psalter

Coronation, Death, and Assumption of the Virgin Mary

In the upper register, the Virgin Mary is crowned Queen of Heaven by Christ as two angels swing censers above their heads. Enthroned in front of a timeless and spaceless diamond-patterned gold background, they are flanked by John the Evangelist on the left, holding his Gospel, and John the Baptist on the right, holding the Lamb of God with a bannered cross-staff in its hoof.

In the lower-left corner, the Virgin Mary lies on her deathbed holding a palm in her right hand as Christ holds the soul of his mother – their roles are now reversed. On the right, the Virgin Mary is carried up to Heaven in a mandorla by four angels as the Apostles marvel at the empty tomb. The emotions of figures in all three scenes are expressed using hand gestures.

Der Ramsey-Psalter
Facsimile Editions

#1 Der Ramsey-Psalter

Limited Edition: 280 copies
Binding: Embossed leather with two metal clasps. All folios are cut according to the original. Slipcase.
Commentary: 1 volume by Lucy Freeman Sandler
Language: German
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.
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