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The Vespasian Psalter (London, British Library, Cotton Vespasian A I) is an illuminated Psalter made in the second quarter of the 8th Century. It contains an interliniear gloss in Old English which is the oldest extant English translation of any portion of the Bible. It was made in southern England, perhaps in St. Augustine's Abbey or Christ Church, Canterbury or Minster-in-Thanet.
The psalter contains the Book of Psalms together with letters of St. Jerome, hymns and canticles It was written in Latin on vellum, using a southern English Uncial script with Rustic Capitals rubrics. There were additions made by a scribe named Eadui Basan in an English Carolingian minuscule. The English gloss was written in a Southumbrian pointed minuscule.
The codex is 235 by 180 mm. The text is written in an area of about 175 by 135 mm. There are 160 folios.
There are several major initials which are historated, zoomorphic, or decorated. Major inititials are found at the beginning of Psalms 1, 51 and 101. (This tripartite division of the Psalter is typical of Insular Psalters). In addition the psalms begining each of the liturgical divisions of the Psalter are also given major initials. The beginning letters of the other Psalms have smalle "minor" initials which are decorated or zoomorphic and are done in what is called the "antena" style. There is a miniature of King David with his court musicians of folio 30 verso. This miniature probably was originally the opening miniature of the psalter. Sir Robert Cotton pasted a cutting from the Breviary of Margaret of York on folio 160 verso. He also inserted a miniature from a 13th Century liturgical psalter as folio 1.
The Book belongs to a group of manuscripts from Southern England known as the Tiberius group. The manuscript was produced during the second quarter of the 8th century. The script of the old English gloss is typical of the script produced scriptoreums of Canterbury from about 820 to 850. Eadui Basan, who made additions to the manuscript, was a monk at Christ Church, Canterbury during the early 11th Century. Thomas of Elmham recorded a Psalter at Canterbury which may have been the Vespasian Psalter. The manuscript was at Canterbury in 1553. It was subsequently owned by Sir William Cecil and Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. By 1599 it was possesion of Robert Cotton, who signed it on folio 12 recto. It became national property, along with the rest of the Cotton library in 1702 and was incoporated into the British Museum when it was founded in 1753.
Its current binding is the binding, with metal clasps, given to it by Cotton.
- British Library catalogue entry (In Latin)
- British Library Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts entry
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- Kuhn, S.M. "From Canterbury to Lichfield," Speculum 23 (1948), pp.591-629.
- Kuhn, S.M. The Vespasian Psalter (Ann Arbor, MI, 1965).
- Kuhn, S.M. "The Vespasian Psalter and the Old English Charter Hands," Speculum 18 (1943), pp.458-483.
- Lowe, E.A. Codices latini antiquiores (1934-1971), vol. 2, no. 193.
- Morgan, N.J. Early Gothic Manuscripts (I) 1190-1250 (Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles), (Harvey Miller: London, 1982), no.46 (for f.1).
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- Sisam, "Cynewulf and his Poetry." Proceedings of the British Academy 18 (1932), pp.
- Sweet, H., ed. The Oldest English Texts. Glossaries, the Vespasian Psalter, and other works written before A.D. 900. Early English Text Society (London, 1885).
- Temple, E. Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts 900-1066 (Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles), (Harvey Miller: London, 1976), no.55.
- Turner, D. Illuminated Manuscripts Exhibited in the Grenville Library (London, 1967), no.13 (for f.1).
- Webster, L. and J.M.Backhouse, ed., The Making of England, BM/BL exhibition catalogue (London, 1991), no.153 and no.171.
- Wright, D. H. The Vespasian Psalter (Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile, XIV), 1967.
- Zimmermann, E. H. Vorkarolingische Miniaturen (Berlin, 1916), esp. pp. 120, 131, 133-134, 289-291.
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