Psalter

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"Psalters" redirects here. For the musical group, see The Psalters.
Not to be confused with Salter.
Carolingian Psalter (facsimile)
Folio 15b of the Utrecht Psalter illustrates Psalm 27

A psalter is a volume containing the Book of Psalms, often with other devotional material bound in as well, such as a liturgical calendar and litany of the Saints. Until the later medieval emergence of the book of hours, psalters were the books most widely owned by wealthy lay persons and were commonly used for learning to read. Many Psalters were richly illuminated and they include some of the most spectacular surviving examples of medieval book art.

The Roman Catholic psalter[edit]

The Psalterium /sɔːlˈtɪərɪəm/, or Book of the Psalms contains the bulk of the Divine Office of the Roman Catholic Church. The other books associated with it were the Lectionary, the Antiphonary, and Responsoriale, and the Hymnary.[1]

Psalters (as distinct from copies of the Psalms in other formats) developed in the Latin West from the early 8th century. The extensively illustrated Utrecht Psalter is one of the most important surviving Carolingian manuscripts and exercised a major influence on the later development of Anglo-Saxon art.[2] In the Middle Ages psalters were among the most popular types of illuminated manuscripts, rivaled only by the Gospel Books, from which they gradually took over as the type of manuscript chosen for lavish illumination. From the late 11th century onwards they became particularly widespread - Psalms were recited by the clergy at various points in the liturgy, so psalters were a key part of the liturgical equipment in major churches.

Various different schemes existed for the arrangement of the Psalms into groups (see Latin Psalters). As well as the 150 Psalms, medieval psalters often included a calendar, a litany of saints, canticles from the Old and New Testaments, and other devotional texts. The selection of saints mentioned in the calendar and litany varied greatly and can often give clues as to the original ownership of the manuscript, since monasteries and private patrons alike would choose those saints that had particular significance for them.

Many psalters were lavishly illuminated with full-page miniatures as well as decorated initials. Of the initials the most important is normally the so-called "Beatus initial", based on the "B" of the words Beatus vir... ("Blessed is the man...") at the start of Psalm 1. This was usually given the most elaborate decoration in an illuminated psalter, often taking a whole page for the initial letter or first two words. Historiated initials or full-page illuminations were also used to mark the beginnings of the three major divisions of the Psalms, or the various daily readings, and may have helped users navigate to the relevant part of the text (medieval books almost never had page numbers). Many psalters, particularly from the 12th century onwards, included a richly decorated "prefatory cycle" - a series of full-page illuminations preceding the Psalms, usually illustrating the Passion story, though some also featuring Old Testament narratives. Such images helped to enhance the book's status, and also served as aids to contemplation in the practice of personal devotions.

The psalter is also a part of either the Horologion or the breviary, used to say the Liturgy of the Hours in the Eastern and Western Christian worlds respectively.

Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic[edit]

In Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic usage the psalter is divided into 20 kathismata, for reading at Vespers and Matins. Kathisma means sitting, since the people normally sit during the reading of the psalms. Each kathisma is divided into three stases, from stasis, to stand, because each stasis ends with Glory to the Father…, at which everyone stands. The reading of the kathismata are so arranged that the entire psalter is read through in the course of a week (during Great Lent it is read through twice in a week). During Bright Week (Easter Week) there is no reading from the psalter. Orthodox psalters usually also contain the Biblical canticles, which are read at the canon of Matins during Great Lent.

The established Orthodox tradition of Christian burial has included reading the psalter in the church throughout the vigil, where the deceased remains the night before the funeral (a reflection of the vigil of Holy Friday). Some Orthodox psalters also contain special prayers for the departed for this purpose. While the full tradition is showing signs of diminishing in practice, the psalter is still sometimes used during a wake.[3]

Coptic psalters[edit]

The Mudil Psalter, the oldest complete psalter in the Coptic language (Coptic Museum, Egypt, Coptic Cairo).

Non-illuminated psalters written in Coptic predate European psalters by centuries and are some of the earliest surviving codices (bound books). The Mudil Psalter, the oldest complete Coptic psalter, dates to the 5th century. It was found in the Al-Mudil Coptic cemetery in a small town near Beni Suef, Egypt. The codex was in the grave of a young girl, open, with her head resting on it.[4] Scholar John Gee has argued that this represents a cultural continuation of the ancient Egyptian tradition of placing the Book of the Dead in tombs and sarcophagi.[5]

Post-medieval psalters[edit]

In British North America, the first book printed was the Bay Psalm Book in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Psalms in it are metrical translations into English.[6]

Significant psalters[edit]

Initials from the beginning of psalms in the St. Albans Psalter.
Page from the Chludov Psalter (9th century).
The Sofia Psalter (1337).
Illuminated manuscripts
Printed psalters

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Psalterium". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  2. ^ Francis Wormald, The Utrecht Psalter, Utrecht, 1953
  3. ^ The Psalter According to the Seventy
  4. ^ Mat Immerzeel; Jacques Van Der Vliet (2004). Coptic Studies on the Threshold of a New Millennium: Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Coptic Studies, Leiden, August 27-September 2, 2000. Peeters Publishers. ISBN 978-90-429-1409-4. Retrieved 25 May 2012. 
  5. ^ http://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/Gee.pdf
  6. ^ The Bay Psalm Book From the Collections at the Library of Congress
  7. ^ Margaret Stillwell, The Beginning of the World of Books: 1450 to 1470, New York, 1972, no. 18.
  8. ^ Margaret Stillwell, The Beginning of the World of Books: 1450 to 1470, New York, 1972, no. 27.

The Utrecht Psalter