Faddan More Psalter

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The cover of the psalter, after conservation

The Faddan More Psalter (also Irish Bog Psalter or "Faddan Mor Psalter") is an early medieval Christian psalter or text of the book of Psalms, discovered in a peat bog in July 2006, in the townland of Faddan More in north County Tipperary, Ireland.[1] The manuscript was probably written in about 800 in one of a number of monasteries in the area. A unique feature is that the inside of the leather cover is lined with papyrus, probably as a stiffening, an indication of the links between the Irish and Coptic churches at the time. After several years of conservation work, the psalter went on display at the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare St, Dublin in June 2011.[2][3]

This discovery was hailed by the National Museum of Ireland as one of the most significant Irish archaeological finds in decades.[4] Bernard Meehan of the Trinity College Library, who was called in to advise on the discovery, said that he believed the psalter was the first discovery of an Irish early medieval manuscript in two centuries.[5] During the conservation process, in the period 2006–2010, the lining of the binding was found to have elements of papyrus, adding further evidence to the known links between Irish Celtic Christianity and the Egyptian Coptic Church.[6]

The psalter joins the very small number of very early Western books that have survived fully intact with their original bookbindings. These mostly have their origins in the monastic Insular art of Britain and Ireland, and the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon missions to Europe. The earliest is the St Cuthbert Gospel of about 700 (British Library), and other examples probably of the mid-8th century are at Fulda on the continent. However the wallet-like style of the Faddan More binding, and the fact that it does not seem to have been physically attached to the sewn-together pages, make it unique among surviving covers.

Description[edit]

The psalter contains the Latin text of the Psalms, complete on 60 sheets of vellum in five gatherings or quires. The text is a Gallican version of the Vulgate, written in Insular majuscule letters in a single column. The first letter of each psalm has a capital and, as is often the case, the opening words of psalms 1, 51 and 101 are decorated, using black, red, and yellow.[7]

The original leather binding has a fold-over flap with three horn buttons that were probably used to secure a thong or straps, now missing, that tied the cover up; it does not seem to have been physically attached to the gathered and sewn-together pages inside, forming what we might call today a folder or wallet. Similar covers seem to be shown in some images in manuscripts, but no comparable covers have survived. The outside of the cover was "painted with black carbon-based pigment".[8] The leather seems to have been used as a trial piece or sketchpad for composing patterns of interlace for other objects. On the inside there is a sheet of papyrus, presumably used as a liner to stiffen the cover somewhat.[9]

Low oxygen levels in the bog provide unusual preservation conditions, and bogs were often used by Irish monks as hiding places for valuables in the face of Viking raids. In addition to low oxygen levels, sphagnum moss, of which the peat bog is composed, produces an antibiotic substance called sphagnan that binds with proteins on the surface of microorganisms, immobilising them. Its highly reactive carbonyl groups can alter chemicals and nutrients that would otherwise decompose organic matter. And above all the sphagnum moss causes organic material to undergo chemical changes itself that make it impervious to rot.[10]

Discovery[edit]

It was uncovered by bulldozer driver Eddie Fogarty,[1] a worker extracting peat with a backhoe. Dr. Patrick Wallace, director of the National Museum, praised Fogarty for immediately having covered the book with damp soil, as exposure to dry air after so many centuries of dampness might have destroyed it. The book was initially stored in refrigeration at the National Museum. Identifying the safest way to pry open the pages without damaging or destroying them was expected to take months, and conservation work to take two years. The area around Faddan More Bog is rich in medieval history. Monastic foundations such as Lorrha and Terryglass in Co. Tipperary and Birr and Seirkieran in Co. Offaly are located nearby.[1]

The bog is owned by local brothers Kevin and Patrick Leonard. Six years before the psalter find, a leather satchel was found that, by radiocarbon dating, was estimated to originate from between the seventh and ninth centuries. This was located just 100m from the psalter findspot and is of a similar date suggesting that the satchel may have originally contained the book. Additionally, in the years prior to 2006, two ancient wooden vessels were also found in the same bog.[1]

Misreported prophecy[edit]

When found, the book was opened to a page displaying Psalm 83 (in the Septuagint numbering), which corresponds with Psalm 84 in the Masoretic numbering used in most English-language translations.[11] Due to confusion regarding differences in numbering the Psalms, some news sites implied that the Psalter was open at the Masoretic Psalm 83. That psalm contains such lines as "They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance"; this reference to the attempted destruction of Israel connected the find in some people's minds with the contemporaneous 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. The matter was clarified by the director of the National Museum of Ireland, who pointed out the difference in Septuagint vs. Masoretic numbering and that the displayed psalm contains no reference to the destruction of Israel.[12]

Conservation[edit]

The National Museum of Ireland consulted with specialists in archaeological conservation and book conservation about the best way to conserve the psalter, and received partly conflicting advice. Ultimately a multi-phase conservation plan was determined. The first phase involved non-destructive examination of the psalter in the form in which it was discovered – e.g., photography, MRI scanning, and examination of the binding by book-binding specialists. In the second phase, experiments were done on 18th century parchments to determine the best way of drying waterlogged parchment. The most effective method involved soaking the parchment in ethanol to replace the water, placing it between blotting sheets, and vacuum-packing it. In the third phase, this technique was tested on small fragments of the psalter, and found to be effective. Conservators then began applying this method to larger sections of the psalter, and found they could consistently achieve shrinkage of only 2–5%, against 75% on a small fragment that was air-dried.[13]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Location of 'Ireland's Dead Sea Scrolls' revealed- IOL news 05/08/2006 – 09:50:08
  2. ^ NMI
  3. ^ Cunningham, Grainne (8 June 2011). "Public gets first look at ancient book of psalms". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  4. ^ Ancient manuscript discovered in the Midlands – RTÉ News
  5. ^ Bernard Meehan cited in the Sydney Morning Herald
  6. ^ Manuscript dug from bog rates among our top 10 biggest finds
  7. ^ NMI
  8. ^ NMI PDF
  9. ^ NMI, and NMI PDF
  10. ^ How do bogs keep things fresh? by Daniel Engber, Slate, 2006
  11. ^ Ancient Psalms Found Preserved in Irish Bog – NPR
  12. ^ Museum plays diplomatic role on psalm's 'warning to Israel' – Irish Times
  13. ^ The Faddan More Psalter: a progress update, by John Gillis and Anthony Read

References[edit]

  • "NMI PDF"Eamonn P. Kelly, Maeve Sikora (2011) (in German), [PDF, 885 KB Reading the Faddan More Psalter
An Introduction], Dublin: National Museum of Ireland, PDF, 885 KB. Retrieved 2012-01-02

External links[edit]


Coordinates: 53°03′13″N 7°59′57″W / 53.05361°N 7.99917°W / 53.05361; -7.99917