Shaftesbury Psalter


The book of Psalms was at the heart of medieval spirituality, and books containing them survive in more copies than any other biblical book. These manuscripts are characterised as Psalters when they also include other texts adding to the book’s devotional character, such as personalized prayers and litanies, thereby creating an individualised Christian devotional compilation. Many of these books designed for prayer and devotions, both private and communal, are extensively decorated, such as the Shaftesbury Psalter, known as such because it may have been created from a Shaftesbury model. Moreover, the Psalter may have been made for use at the Benedictine nunnery of Shaftesbury, in Dorset, which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Edward, king and martyr (d. 978). Edward, the first English king to be canonised, was enshrined there and features prominently in the Psalter’s calendar.

The book includes an image of a kneeling or prostrated woman below Christ in Majesty, who holds an open book and the orb of the world, surrounded by the four symbols of the Evangelists (the man, the lion, the ox, and the eagle). This woman may be the original owner of the book, perhaps Queen Adeliza of Leuven (Louvain) (d. 1151), widow of Henry I (f. 14v, image no. 2). The form of the Latin prayers also indicate that they were intended to be said by a woman. A second illustration of her is in prayer before the Virgin and Child (f. 165v; image no. 3).

View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.

Full title:
Psalter (The Shaftesbury Psalter) with calendar and prayers
2nd quarter of the 12th century
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Lansdowne MS 383

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Women and Christianity

Article by:
Christine Joynes
Christianity, Women, texts and faith

Dr Christine Joynes discusses women in Christianity: both their presentation in the gospels and the apostolic letters, and the role of women in Christianity today, from the perspective of female leadership and their perceived role in society.

Manuscripts of the Christian Bible

Article by:
Scot McKendrick
Christianity, Sacred texts

Dr Scot McKendrick looks at manuscripts of the Bible prior to the invention of printing, exploring their contents and uses and answering the question of why there are so few manuscripts of the whole Bible.

Women in medieval society

Article by:
Alixe Bovey

From attitudes to original sin to the roles of wives, mothers and nuns, Dr Alixe Bovey examines the role of women in medieval society.

Related collection items