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April, in the 'Shaftesbury Psalter'

April, in the 'Shaftesbury Psalter'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1135

Shelfmark: Lansdowne MS 383

Item number: f.4v

Length: 22.2

Width: 12.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

In the middle ages, there was a nunnery at Shaftesbury, and this psalter appears to have been made there or to have been modelled after a manuscript from Shaftesbury. Its calendar (used to coordinate prayers with saints' days and other feasts) and litany (a prayer appealing to saints for their help) mention saints who were especially venerated at Shaftesbury. The figures in its many pictures resemble a carving found at nearby Milborne St Andrew. Although its origins at Shaftesbury can not be shown beyond a doubt, it is certain that it was made for a female reader, probably an abbess. Recently a scholar suggested that it was made for Queen Adeliza, the widow of Henry I.

The Shaftesbury Psalter's calendar follows the usual medieval set out: at the top of the page a small picture of the month--here personified or shown as a human figure--and, lower right, a disc bearing the sign of the zodiac. For the month of April, a young woman in a green tunic holds a leafing branch, and the sign of Taurus (the bull) prances with energy. The first saint's day listed is that Mary of Egypt, a legendary female hermit for whom a nun or abbess might have special veneration. Further down, the name of St George is written in blue to highlight his feast. Important saints' days were written in blue or red ('red letter day').

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