German or Austrian, 12th century

Language: Latin

height 22 cm
width 14 cm

98 leaves. Late Romanesque script, later section in square Gothic and bâtard (14th c.?) 24 lines. Gatherings mostly of 8. Text in Latin: Psalter with musical notation in neumes, Canticles, Litany, Office of the Dead. 5 large decorated initials. Binding: pigskin(?) over wooden boards

University of Portland, Clark Library, Ms III B bis


Parshall, Peter. Illuminated Manuscripts from Portland Area Collections. Portland, OR: Portland Art Museum, 1978, p. 9 - Quoted with permission

Monastic scriptoria were still the main source of religious books during the Romanesque period, and Psalters were among the most commonly produced texts. This modestly decorated manuscript with initials painted in light pastel tones of green and blue outlined with red is typical of the period. The initials are composed of intertwining foliage patterns; one is elaborated with an animal grotesque. Studded bands are portrayed clasping together the vine clusters of the initials, a feature typical of north Italian, Austrian, and German work from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. A short litany of saints done in a separate, no doubt later, cursive hand toward the end of the text includes various saints that point to monastic use, possible Cistercian (Wilhelme, Emunde, Malachia, Benedicte, Bernharde, Ruperte). An early (near contemporary?) inscription on the inside front board indicates a German-speaking owner: "Kunegundus...gelert." Shifts in scribal hand suggest adaptations for the manuscript's early destination, though these changes are consistent with stylistic evidence that indicates an origin in southern Germany or Austria, perhaps in the region of Salzberg.


Eleanor Cohn-Eichner - Medieval Portland Capstone Student, 2008

This psalter, dated to the last quarter of the twelfth century, currently resides in the University of Portland Library. The volume is composed of 98 leaves of vellum, substantially weathered and "chewed" away in several places, but not materially damaged. It is bound with its original wooden board with a pigskin overlay; the spine has been dyed yellow at some point, and it contains modern tape in the binding from a repair session in 1981. The strap and pin that hold it shut help date the binding to the twelfth century, when this device was common and places the origin of the binding to the Continent, where the pin was always placed on the upper board (front cover). There are numerous textual commentaries in the margins, and some illegible notation written vertically in the inner margins of several pages, possibly but not necessarily notes to a fellow scribe. A note on the inside cover: "Kunegundus... de gelert." points to a possible early German owner (Kunegundus being a variant of a German name, "gelert" meaning "learned").

For the first 94 pages, the script seems to resemble a proto-Gothic book hand - also known as late Romanesque or transitional Gothic. This is helpful in verifying the date of the volume, as this transitional script dates from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. During this time in Western Europe the rounder, more relaxed Carolingian hand was giving way in favor of the angular Gothic, more economical with space; proto-Gothic was a particular combination of the new Gothic angular compression with the clarity of the old Carolingian. The Gothic hand, used for liturgical manuscripts and official documents, was common for many centuries, and remained popular, especially in Germany. However, due perhaps to the fact that it was time-consuming to produce, a combination of Gothic with informal, personal cursive styles soon developed. These hybrid or "bastard" scripts, known as "bastarda" or "batard" (French), were in existence for some time before gaining a more general use in the fourteenth century. This might help verify the given date of the fourteenth century for the last six pages of the psalter, as they consist of a brief Gothic hand followed by a Litany of Saints in batard. I cannot find any evidence more regional than the designation "Western Europe" as far as placing this psalter in a particular country by the style of script, but a couple of examples I have observed, most notably a twelfth-century German psalter residing in the library at Columbia University, have a very similar appearance, from the apparent proto-Gothic hand, to a similar shade of ink, and even to the look of the vellum.

The modest ornamental initials, five in all, colored in red, blue, green, and yellow, are comprised of interlocking vines and scrolls, with a simple grotesque - a little beast common in medieval illuminations of all kinds - on the 'O'. Red capital letters appear throughout the text, as well as red notations of holidays - our expression "red-letter day" comes from this practice of writing saint's days and other particular occasions of the church calendar in red ink.

The Latin text of this particular psalter contains the Book of Psalms, and includes Antiphones, Canticles, Office of the Dead, and a Litany of Saints. The Book of Psalms was extremely important to the Divine Office of the medieval church. The entire one hundred and fifty psalms were repeated each week, at the least, in a typical monastery, with certain psalms assigned for each office. In the early medieval church, a solitary monk would take charge of reciting a psalm, but by the twelfth century the chanting of the psalms had turned into a choral activity, necessitating a musical notation in the text in order to guide the group into some semblance of simultaneous song. In the University of Portland psalter, this is illustrated by the presence of antiphons at the end of some portions of the text - an antiphon being a musical response to a psalm - and the neumes, free-floating musical notations placed above the text to give an idea of the melody. Psalters were not limited to monastic settings, however; the commonplace nature of the psalter in this period was due to the fact that it was used not only by the church and in religious communities, but as a private devotional text by the secular population, before the later craze for Books of Hours outshone the psalter.
Individual details like the litany of saints could be clues to a psalter's origin or region of use. Peter Parshall, who originally cataloged this item for the Portland Art Museum, points to some names in the litany as indicating a Cistercian monastic use - Wilhelme, Edmundus, Malachias, Benedictus, Bernhardus, Rupertus - as well as believing the volume's origin to be in or around the area of Salzburg. Several facts back this up: St. Benedict was extremely important to the Cistercian monastic reform in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, a reform desiring to return to the simplicity of the Benedictine Rule. St. Bernard was an early leader of the Cistercian order, canonized in 1174. St. Edmund was an English saint who moved to France in order to join the Cistercians before his death, and St. Malachy was an important Irish saint who traveled to the Continent in order to die in the arms of St.  Bernard himself. St. Rupert, who lived in the eighth century, is buried in Salzburg, and created a religious community there during his life. There is one detail that indicates the possibility that there was some little time before this psalter reached an Austrian Cistercian home. In the early part of the twelfth century, St. Bernard was issuing increasingly strict regulations with the intent of keeping a purity and simplicity in the Cistercian monastic lifestyle. One of these rules forbade illuminated initials in monastic manuscripts, and even prohibited the use of color. The extreme modesty of the psalter in question would no doubt have been perfectly acceptable a century or so later, when these rules were relaxed, but this is only one reason that I imagine it might not have had its twelfth-century origins in a Cistercian scriptorium.

The available evidence seems to indicate that this psalter was originally made for private use. The text begins straightaway with the Book of Psalms, with no calendar or liturgical notes beforehand, as was sometimes common in psalters made specifically for monastic use. The presence of five illuminated capitals indicates the division by five of the Book of Psalms, a straightforward division that was common in psalters made for private study and meditation, as opposed to the ferial or holiday psalter, with its different divisions based on the days of the week. The name on the inside upper board also points to a private owner. The presence of neumes and antiphons throughout the psalter indicate that it was used in a monastic setting, but whether these details were added later in the fourteenth century, or whether this psalter went through several different monastic homes before ending up in Austria, it is difficult to say.


Bologna, Giulia. Illuminated Manuscripts: the Book Before Gutenberg. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, New York, NY. 1988.

Buttner, F.O., editor. The Illuminated Psalter: Studies in the Content, Purpose, and Placement of its Images. Brepols Publishers, Turnhout, Belgium. 2004.

Cassidy, Brendan, and Wright, Rosemary Muir, editors. Studies in the Illustration of Psalter. Shaun Tyas Stamford, Lincolnshire, U.K. 2000.

Celebrating the Liturgy's Books: Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in New York City. Retrieved on July 28th, 2008.

Dyer, Joseph. 'The Singing of Psalms in the Early- Medieval Office.' (Speculum) Vol. 64, No. 3. (1989) pp. 535-578.

Lekai, L.J. The Cistercians. Kent State University Press, 1977.

Medieval Writing. http.// Retrieved on July 22nd, 2008.

New Advent: the Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved on July 3rd, 2008.

Parshall, Peter. Illuminated Manuscripts from Portland Area Collections. Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR. 1978.

Watson, Rowan. Illuminated Manuscripts and their Makers. V and A Publications, 2003.

Zigrosser, Carl. 'The Philip S. Collins Collection of Mediaeval Manuscripts.' (Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin) Vol. 58, No. 275. (1962) pp. 3-34.


Wilma Fitzgerald, PhD, SP - Quoted with permission from an unpublished study

Officium et  Psalterium. Officium mortuorum. Litania. Saec. XIII. Austrian / German origin. FF. ii (paper) + 98 + ii (paper),  217 x 140 ( 165 x 103) mm. Modern foliation. Single columns of 24 lines. Gothic minuscule with later bâtard hand. Capitals and headings in red. Five large ornamented initials painted in green, red, and blue. A few neumes, not on lines, over antiphons.  Added notes in margins.  Added litany of saints in later hand points to monastic use: Wilhelm, Edmundus , Malachias. Benedictus, Bernhardus, Rupertus. On the inside front board: Kunegundus ... gelert.  Quarto with modern pigskin over original wooden boards 230 x 140 mm. Spine now dyed yellow. Library notes record that the volume was cleaned, repaired, and rebound in the Thompson Conservation Laboratory during 1981. Literature: Peter W Parshall, Illuminated Manuscripts from Portland Area Collections. Portland Art Museum May 9-July 23 1978 Multnomah County Library (Library Association of Portland Or.): Item # 1: Psalter

// Ant.  Servite domino in timore. Ps. Beatus uir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum et in uia peccatorum non stetit et in cathedra pestilentiae .../... (f. 94.)  Preces pro omnibus fidelibus defunctis, presenti defuncto, familia, in solemni tricenario, in anniversario, pro tricenario, pontifice, sepultus in cymiterio. (f. 96v). Litania [added]: Martine, Nicole, Petre, Wilhelme, Edmunde, Malachia, Benedicte, Bernharde, Ruperte. Maria Magdalena, Agatha, Agnete, Katherina, Margaretha, Anna. (98v.) Colophon: Dic ave pro scriptore.