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Psalm 51 (52), in a Psalter With Old English Translation

Psalm 51 (52), in a Psalter With Old English Translation

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1050

Shelfmark: Stowe MS 2

Item number: f. 56r

Length: 28

Width: 17.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

This psalter is believed to have been made in south-western England, probably, New Minster, Winchester, because of the style of its handwriting and decoration along with the prayers added to the end of each psalm. Moreover, at the same time it was made in the mid-11th century or soon after, a scribe, perhaps the same who wrote the Latin verses, added between the lines a translation (continuous gloss) in Old English. Psalter translations have a long history in England, the earliest being one in a Mercian dialect of the 9th century in the Vespasian Psalter, which is also in the British Library. The translations reflect the use of psalters as prayerbooks by laity as well as priests, monks and nuns. Many people in Anglo-Saxon England would have had a daily familiarity with the psalms--from hearing them recited if not from reading them.

Psalm 51 / 52 ("Why do you boast of evil") begins with a large, decorated letter. Not all the psalms got such special treatment, but Psalm 51 stood at the beginning of one of the divisions of the psalter. There were several traditions of psalter division, the most commonly used being an eight-part division designed to accommodate the weekly recitation of the psalms in the daily prayer services of monks (one section for each weekday plus one for evening prayer services). The Old English translation can be seen between the lines. At one point, the scribe wrote it over the body of the dragon forming part of the 'Q', evidence that the gloss was added after the manuscript was finished. The tolerant dragon and the animal head who has patiently held the top of the letter together are in the style of mid-11th century Anglo-Saxon decoration.

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