Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts in Trinity College Library: The Eadwine Psalter

The third manuscript to feature in our series taking a closer look at manuscripts lent by Trinity College to the British Library’s major exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War is the Eadwine Psalter (R.17.1). This elaborate manuscript, almost half a metre tall, is included in Henry of Eastry’s catalogue of the library of Christ Church, Canterbury compiled around c. 1320. It is named – Tripatrum psalterium Edwini – for the Christ Church monk and scribe, Eadwine, who is pictured full-page at the end of the manuscript accompanied by the inscription: “the prince of scribes … whose genius the beauty of this book demonstrates”. In fact, a number of scribes and artists worked collaboratively on the Psalter.

R.17.1, f.283v

The psalter is a much enhanced copy of the Utrecht Psalter (also currently on display in London) with a very elaborate design. It contains Jerome’s Latin translations of the Psalms in three columns: the inner column (labelled HEBR) is a translation from Hebrew together with a translation into Anglo Norman French, the middle column (labelled ROM) a Roman version with a translation into Old English, and the main text (labelled GALL) is Jerome’s revision of the Romanum. There is also a marginal gloss in Latin in the outer margin. The psalter texts were copied first and the interlinear and marginal glosses were added subsequently.

R.17.1, f.23v

The psalter contains 166 coloured outlined drawings as well as hundreds of decorated initials. Each psalm is preceded by an illustration derived from the Utrecht Psalter made by one of at least three artists who worked on the manuscript.

Detail from R.17.1, f.36v

A date of production of the mid-12th century might be suggested by a marginal drawing and description in Old English of a comet (usually assumed to be Halley’s which appeared in 1145). It has been queried, though, whether this note originated in the Psalter: it may have been copied from elsewhere. Equally, the comet referred to may be one of several others which appeared in the 12th century.

Detail from R.17.1, f.10r

A plan of the waterworks at Christ Church, which from architectural evidence is known to have been made after 1153, appears after the painting of Eadwine. It was drawn onto blank leaves of the original bound manuscript. This unique diagram shows the plumbing system of the monastic complex which was, at the time it was devised, an innovative engineering achievement.

R.17.1, ff. 284v-285r

The Eadwine Psalter was produced and remained at Christ Church for most of the medieval period until it was given to Trinity College Library by Thomas Nevile (died 1615), Dean of Canterbury and Master of Trinity College.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War is at the British Library until 19 February 2019.