The Three Magi in The Great Canterbury Psalter

The Great Canterbury Psalter, also known as Anglo-Catalan Psalter, is housed in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF MS Latin 8846). It is considered by many to be the most lavishly illuminated psalter ever created.

The codex enriched the treasures in Jean de Berry’s library according to an inventory of the duke’s books and finest possessions. It may have been amongst the 78 manuscripts sold by Charles Croy in 1511 to the first female bibliophile in history, Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands. When it arrived in Paris, the manuscript had a green velvet binding enabling it to be traced in Margaret of Austria’s different inventories (dated 1516 and 1523).


Along with most of Margaret of Austria’s books, it was handed down to her niece, Mary of Hungary, Charles V’s sister. Following the death of the Queen of Hungary, it entered the general collection of the Burgundian library in Brussels. It is mentioned in the inventory drawn up in 1615-1617 for Archduke Albert and Elizabeth. The manuscript left the Brussels library for Paris in 1796. The binding for Napoleon I took place in 1809.

BNF MS Latin 8846 fol. 4v

The scene above depicts parts of the Biblical story of Christmas, including the journey of the Three Magi, their meeting with King Herod before coming to see the infant Jesus. Afterwards, an angel warns them not to return to Herod.


These are events are commemorated by the Christian festival Epiphany, which takes place on the 6th of January. In Spain it is known as El Día de Reyes, and children and adults alike look forward to receiving gifts from the Three Kings. This festival is also celebrated in similar ways in other Latin American countries.

Click here to learn more about the Great Canterbury Psalter.

Our thanks to Moleiro Editor for this article – visit their website to facsimiles of medieval manuscripts related to the Bible.