The Psalter and Commentary: Medieval Devotional Texts for Prayer, Meditation and Study

The Psalter and Commentary: Medieval Devotional Texts for Prayer, Meditation and Study

By Holle Canatella

Lustre: Spiritual Treasures and Sensory Pleasures (University of Houston, Texas, 2005)

Introduction: While manuscripts such as Bibles, certain liturgical books, and books of hours were widely used for spiritual purposes in the Middle Ages, there were other texts of a devotional nature that fulfilled specific intellectual and spiritual needs of religious men and women. Books such as psalters and commentaries served this purpose, and both served as teaching tools.

The psalter is the Book of Psalms, and it is often prefaced by a calendar and other auxiliary texts such as canticles, creeds, the litany of the saints, and prayers. Psalters often belonged to individuals, who used them for personal meditation and study, but they might also be used for liturgical purposes, and many belonged to priests. In the thirteenth century, the book of hours began to replace the psalter as a book of private devotion. Production and use of psalters continued well into the late Middle Ages and their role as private devotional texts was not entirely usurped by the rise of the book of hours. Some famous examples of psalters used for private devotion include the St. Albans Psalter, produced in the twelfth century for the Anglo-Saxon recluse and mystic Christina of Markyate; the twelfth-century psalter belonging to Henry of Blois, the bishop of Winchester and known patron of the arts; and the Dagulf Psalterwhich Charlemagne commissioned as a gift for Pope Hadrian, with many pages written in gold or silver. These are but a few of the many well known extant medieval psalters whose owners are identified.

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