The First Penitential Psalm, from a Book of Hours
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
One of the aspirations of a literate lay person in the later Middle Ages was to participate in the daily prayer recited by monks in order to have more direct access to God. One response to this desire was the formation of the book of hours, a private prayerbook, based on the book used by monks, but adapted for the daily use of the laity. The book of hours gave a programme of personal prayer to all levels of literate society, from royalty to affluent townspeople. This book of hours was probably made in London, in a workshop of lay scribes and artists. Its flyleaves were made from a confraternity register of the Augustinian Priory of St Mary Overy (now Southwark Cathedral). Books of hours can vary in their contents, but all have an essential core of prayers and bible texts which were taken from the breviary (monks' prayerbook).
Seven Psalms called the 'Penitential Psalms' are among these core texts. They express sorrow and beg forgiveness for sins committed, and formed part of the devotional act. The beginning of the first Penitential Psalm (Psalm 6) is decorated with plant forms painted with rich colours and gilt and modelled so that it appears three-dimensional. The fleshy budding plants are typical of English manuscript decoration of the 2nd quarter of the 15th century.