Since many years now I have a pleasure to run lectures during calligraphy & illumination workshops provided by Barbara Bodziony. Obviously, those lectures focus on medieval manuscripts. Medieval books’ lovers usually are familiar with particular 12th century miniature, depicting monk working in scriptorium, inscribed as a portrait of scribe called Eadwine. However, very few people really can provide further information about the book that this miniature comes from.
The book is called The Eadwine Psalter; it dates back to the 3rd quarter (?) of the 12th century and comes from the scriptory of the cathedral and Benedictine priory in Canterbury. Today there’s no priory there anymore, as it was dissolved during the Reformation and all that remained is the cathedral in Canterbury. The Psalter is not there anymore either, as in the 17th century it was given by the Cathedral dean to Cambridge, and so today the manuscript is kept in the Trinity College Library in Cambridge (MS R.17.1). It was most likely around that time, in the 17th century, when 4 folios were cut out of the book; those folios are decorated with full-page cycles of Gospel scenes and are now divided between various collections (The Morgan Library in New York, The British Library and Victoria and Albert Museum in London).
The Eadwine Psalter is intriguing in many aspects; first of all it is a Romanesque copy of a famous Carolingian Utrecht Psalter (about which I have written before, see HERE). More than 300 years after the original was created, monks from Canterbury copied unique illustrations for every Psalm; the Romanesque version may seem a bit less sketchy (and the drawings are actually in colour), but all the compositions have been repeated really carefully. Check it out: here goes one of the images from 9th century Utrecht Psalter (to the left) juxtaposed with relevant illustration from The Eadwine Psalter (to the right):
However, while the Utrecht Psalter contains only basic Latin text of the Book of Psalms, the Eadwine Psalter is linguistically much more sophisticated: each Psalm has been written there in three (!) different Latin versions and two additional translations! All the Latin versions are by St Jerome, who initially created a new Latin Psalter based on early Latin Bible called Itala (dating back most likely to the 2nd century AD) and then made a new Latin translation from Greek version (Septuaginta). Finally, St Jerome decided to translate the Psalms into Latin once again, this time from Hebrew originals – and those three versions have been juxtaposed on subsequent pages of the Eadwine Psalter. Each version has its own column with a separate decorated initial.
Additionally, every page contains Latin notes placed on the margins and between the lines; also the translations have been placed between the lines of Latin Psalms: each of them has been translated into Old English and into Norman-French.
Let’s get back now to Eadwine himself: the famous miniature depicts scribe at his work and the surrounding frame contains inscription that is a form of dialogue between the Author and the Letter. Scribe describes himself as the “first” (or “prince”; lat. Princeps) among scribes and the Letter confirms his glory, claiming that his work will make him alive through ages. The inscription also gives the Scribe’s name: Eadwine. The book is believed to have been completed by at least 10 scribes, and it seems that at least 6 artists painted the decorations (although we do not know whether some of those scribes may also have been illuminators), but over 90% of the decoration is believed to have been completed by a single artist. The trouble is that so far we did not manage to identify any 12th century monk in Canterbury who was called Eadwine (or anything close to that name). It surely was not the prior at the time, as when the Psalter was created the priory was run by a man called Wybert (Wibert).
Stylistic analysis of the manuscript leads to the conclusion that it has been created in the middle part of the 12th century; it was surely before 1170s, as the calendar lacks mention about the most important Saint of Canterbury: Thomas Becket, martyred in 1170 and canonised soon after, in 1173. Besides, the Eadwine Psalter contains the plan of the cathedral and monastery that shows it prior to the great fire of 1174. By the way, that plan is also very interesting, as it also depicts… waterworks of the monastery!
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the Eadwine Psalter includes an astronomical curiosity as well! It is a drawing of a comet with an Old English inscription that says that in England the comet is called “hairy” (or “long-haired”) star.
Most scholars assumed that the depiction shows Halley’s Comet, visible in 1145, although not all agreed about that. Surely the Halley’s Comet have been observed in Britain in 1066, as its appearance have been noted in Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Worcester manuscript) and its image was placed on the Bayeux Tapestry.
In the 12th century British annalists noted various comets in 1106, 1009, 110, 1114, 1132 and 1147, and later further in the 1150s and 1160s. Lately the scholars tend to assume that the Eadwin Psalter drawing in question depicts rather the comet of 1147, not the Halley’s Comet observed earlier. Well, I would be glad to juxtapose a real Halley’s Comet with that drawing; in fact I still may have a chance to do that, as the upcoming appearance of Halley’s Comet is scheduled for 2061.
The Eadwine Psalter has been digitalized and is entirely available on-line.