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Psalm 109, in the 'Shaftesbury Psalter'

Psalm 109, in the 'Shaftesbury Psalter'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1135

Shelfmark: Lansdowne MS 383

Item number: f.108r

Length: 22.4

Width: 13

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.

In the middle ages, psalters were divided according to several traditions, each differing in number of divisions. The Shaftesbury Psalter has a ten-fold division, the first letter of each bearing a picture (called a 'historiated initial'). Psalm 109 (110) ("The Lord says unto my Lord: 'sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet'") shows what appear to be the creator ('Pantocrator') and Christ at the harrowing of Hell, that is, two aspects of Christ--both wear haloes with crosses--with kings and a heretic or Judas (?) beneath their feet. It interprets the psalm in terms of Christian doctrine, which was usual practice in medieval psalter decoration.

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