Saturday 10 October 2020

The Date of a Worcester Psalter (Magdalen College, MS 100)

I visited Magdalen College Library for the first time a year or two ago, to look at an early 13th-century Psalter [1]. It has been discussed in some detail by Nigel Morgan [2], thanks to its high quality illuminated initials, one of which is shown above.

He attributes it to Worcester, based partly on the iconography of the historiated initials (two of which are closely paralleled in the mid-13th-century Evesham Psalter -- Evesham is less than 15 miles south-east of Worcester), and especially the fact that "the Calendar and Litany are for the use of Benedictine Priory of the Cathedral of Worcester". The date is a trickier issue.

Although Morgan was more comfortable with a slightly later dating of the illumination, in the 1220s, he noted that:
"Two corrections contemporary with the main text of the Calendar and by a slightly later different hand are the Dedication of Worcester Cathedral (7th June) and the Translation of St. Wulfstan (14th June, which is in fact the Octave of the Translation). Both of these events took place on June 7th, 1218 and if the entries are additions rather than corrections then the text would antedate 1218 ..."
Here are the two entries he mentions:
Dedicatio cathedralis eccl(es)ie Wigorn(iensis)
Transl(atio) s(an)c(t)i Wlstani ep(iscop)i & (con)f(essoris)

In addition to the slightly different script of these two entries, we can see that the shades of red and blue inks used are not the same as the adjacent entries, and we can also see that the insertion of these two feasts has upset the regular red-blue-red-blue alternation of entries found throughout the rest of the calendar, as seen here:

This regular colour alternation is somewhat curious, because at this date it was normal for colours to indicate the relative importance of feasts: blue (or gold, if present) for the most important feasts; red for lesser ones; and plain brown for minor ones. But in this case, it seems that when the calendar was originally written, there was no intention to indicate the grades of the feasts. The alternating blue and red is used even for  the major feasts of Worcester, such as St Wulfstan (19 January):
"S(an)c(t)i Wlstani ep(iscop)i & confessoris"
and the feast of relics:
Commemoratio s(an)c(ta)r(um) reliquiarum hui(us) basilice

This might suggest that, even if the calendar was copied from a Worcester Cathedral exemplar, the Psalter was not expected to be used in a context where the Cathedral's liturgy needed to be observed: e.g. if the Cathedral commissioned it as a gift to someone who was not a member of the community.

Soon afterwards, however, it was decided to add the grades of the feasts. But rather than include them immediately after the relevant feasts, as would have been logical, an extra panel was drawn to the right of the green rectangle that encloses each month, and the gradings were added here. On a recto the extra panel extends into the right margin:

while those on the facing versos are now barely visible due to the rightness of the binding:

The gradings (usually abbreviated) are (here in order of ascending importance):
  • commemoratio
  • iii lectiones
  • xii lectiones
  • vii fest.
  • In cappis
  • In albis
Something interesting seems to have happened with the feast of the Translation of Thomas Becket, an event which took place on 7 July 1220:

It seems to me that we can see here several stages of emendation. 

It looks as if Becket's feast was originally written in blue ink, but later erased, doubtless because it had been written on the wrong date, 8 July:

The erasure apparently happened before the gradings were added in the right margin, as there is no erasure next to the 8 July entry.

The erased feast was later inserted in its correct place, 7 July, but in brown ink, unlike all the original entries:

"Transla[tio sci Thome arch]iepi & martiris."

Perhaps as a still later stage, the grading "In cappis" was added in the right column, in a different shade of red ink and in a different script than the gradings above and below:

If the original entry in blue, mistakenly entered on 8 July, was by the original scribe, then the original scribe must have been writing after the Translation itself took place on 7 July 1220. But because the feast was later erased, we cannot judge to see if its script is the same as the other original entries. We can see, however, that -- because it was written in blue -- it upset the regular colour alteration, just like the feasts of Wulfstan discussed above.

This suggests that the blue entry on 8 July was not part of the calendar when originally written, and thus that the calendar was originally written before July 1220. Thus this seems to provide evidence in support of Nigel Morgan's suggestion that the calendar could have been  probably written before 1218.

The process of incremental additions continued, including, for example, the Octave of Wulfstan's 19 January feast:

And within the 13th century, the obits of the Prior's parents, Odo an Matilda, were also added:
"O(btitus) Odonis pat(ri)s .R. prioris" (3 June)
"O(bitus) Matild(e) mat(ri)s R. p(ri)oris" (28 or 29 October)

Nigel Morgan has plausibly suggested that this refers either to Richard de Gundicote, Prior of Worcester from 1242 to 1252, or perhaps Richard of Dumbleton, Prior 1260-72; the script suggests it is less likely to be Richard of Feckenham, Prior 1274-86. In any case, the likelihood is that the Psalter was owned by the Prior around the middle or third quarter of the 13th century, and he may have already owned it for many years.

[1] As I spell "Magdalen" without an "e" at the end, you know that I am referring to the Oxford College, not the Cambridge one. (Similarly, Oxford has Queen's College, while Cambridge has Queens' College).

[2] Nigel Morgan, Early Gothic Manuscripts [I]: 1190-1250, ed. by J. J. G. Alexander, A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, 4.1 (London: Harvey Miller, 1982), p. 96 no. 49, ills. 163-66.

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