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.