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A Decorated Initial, In Augustine, Commentary On The Psalms

A Decorated Initial, In Augustine, Commentary On The Psalms

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1110

Shelfmark: Royal MS 5 D.iii

Item number: f.5r

Length: 39.3

Width: 27

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript

St Augustine of Hippo (353 -430) was one of the most important early Christian writers. Among his many books, his commentary on the psalms was one of the most widely copied and quoted during the middle ages. Augustine wrote a separate commentary on each psalm, some of which are lengthy, all together making for a very long book. Often manuscripts of it were bound as two or three volumes--as are modern printed editions. This manuscript is Volume One of a copy that belonged to Rochester cathedral priory. It probably served multiple purposes: for reading from during the daily prayer services (divine office), as a source when composing sermons, for theological study and personal contemplation.

The large, coloured letters in medieval manuscripts mark important divisions in the text. On this page, the large, red 'P' highlights the beginning of the second part of Augustine's commentary on Psalm 3 ('O Lord how many are my foes'), which is quoted a little farther down, beginning with the green 'D'. The note in the margin identifies the psalm. The letters show how decoration was used to create a hierarchy of the sections of the manuscript. Also, the psalm gets special attention here because it was sung at the beginning of night prayer services in the call to prayer (the 'invitatorium'). Lines of metalpoint (pencil) drawing can be seen around the letter P.

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