The Theodore Psalter is one of the most famous treasures of the British Library and possibly the richest illuminated Greek manuscript to survive.
It is named after Theodore of Caesarea who was responsible for both copying and illustrating it. Produced for Michael, the Abbot of the important monastery of Stoudion in Constantinople in 1066, it contains the Book of Psalms in Greek, appended with some poetical texts taken from the Old Testament (the so-called odes).
It is an exceptionally lavish example of the so-called ‘marginal Psalters’, which include an allegorical commentary to the psalms in the margins in the form of images. The 435 illustrations in this manuscript comment on the text of the Psalms by referencing them to the New Testament and, in certain cases, to later historical events.
An example of this is the representation of the 8th-century Byzantine controversy over religious images. Explaining a portion of Psalm 26 (‘I hated the assembly of evildoers and with the impious I will not sit’), marked by a red stroke on the left margin of the text, the illustrator associated the ‘the evildoers’ with the iconoclasts. The iconoclasts, who interpreted the biblical commandment against graven images to the letter and destroyed any pictures or icons, are represented here as the ‘evildoers’, removing the image of Christ from a wall. The just, however, who ‘will not sit with the impious’, are identified with the defenders of the icons, St Theodore the Stoudite (759–826) and Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople (758–828), who are represented arguing with the iconoclast emperor.
View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.