Easter Sepulchre, Irnham, King David, King John, Lincolnshire, Luttrell Psalter, Magna Carta, Medieval, Middle-earth, Nottingham, psalter, Robin Hood, Scriptorium, Sir Geoffrey Psalter, St Andrew's, Tolkien, Utrecht Psalter, Westminster Psalter
As always, dear readers, welcome.
In past posts, we’ve occasionally used images from a very famous medieval manuscript, the Luttrell Psalter. One fairly recent one, on carts and wagons in Middle-earth, included this, for example—
A medieval psalter is a collection of psalms—religious poems which were traditionally attributed to King David of Israel–
(This is, in fact, from the Westminster Psalter, c.1200)
plus other Christian religious material. It was clearly a place which offered lots of opportunities for illustrations because a number of them have them, some of them very generous in just how many, like the Utrecht Psalter, from the 9th century, which has an illustration for every psalm.
The Utrecht Psalter has been digitized—here’s a LINK so that you can see all of this wonderful book.
Such books were created in the medieval equivalent of copy-centers, called scriptoria (singular = scriptorium). For many years, it was said that this was a specific room in a monastery in which teams of monks worked on writing/copying books. More recently, this view has been challenged (see this LINK for discussion on the subject), but certainly monks made and copied books, as this manuscript illustration of the 12th-century English priest and Latin poet, Lawrence of Durham reminds us. In fact, this illustration may be more accurate than other medieval illustrations as it shows Lawrence working on a single sheet, which was the standard method. All sheets were then gathered up and bound into a book—a very different scene from this Spanish medieval illustration, in which at least the monk on the right seems to be writing in a book (the figure on the left looks to be a lay person and may be painting—hence, illustrating).
Illustrated books—especially heavily-illustrated books like the Luttrell Psalter—would have been very costly, and so only the wealthy would have commissioned such a work. We know the name of the person who commissioned this book because that name and a suggestion of a portrait are at Psalm 109 of the manuscript.
As it says just above the illustration: “DNS Galfridus Louterrell me fieri fecit” = The Lord Geoffrey Luttrell had me made”.
Sir Geoffrey (1276-1345) was descended from an earlier Sir Geoffrey, who had been a supporter of King John (1166-1216), the dodgy character of the Magna Carta and from the Robin Hood story.
Here’s King John forced to sign the Magna Carta, designed to lessen the king’s power and increase that of the nobles—
which, of course, he didn’t do, since the sign of royal approval in 1215 wasn’t a name, but an official seal.
Sir Geoffrey’s descendant, also Geoffrey, held land, among other places, around Irnham (probably from the Old English for “Georna’s settlement”, Geornaham) in Lincolnshire (yes, when it comes to England, we can never quite escape the Shire, can we?). Here’s where Lincolnshire is on a map of England. (It’s interesting that Nottingham, notorious for its sheriff and Prince John in the Robin Hood stories, is only about 40 miles west of Irnham.)
This Sir Geoffrey’s manor house has long disappeared, but we imagine that the area called a manor might have looked something like this.
Its church, St Andrew’s, survives, however, and, though rebuilt in 1858, dates from the 12th century.
Inside, is a monumental brass for Sir Geoffrey’s son, Andrew, (died 1390).
There is no tomb for his father, Sir Geoffrey, but there is what’s called an “Easter Sepulchre”, which was commissioned by him and which may have been based upon such a tomb.
This piece of architecture was used in an elaborate ceremony connected with the celebration of the Christian Easter in the Middle Ages.
Beyond the church, our monument to Sir Geoffrey is the psalter, over whose date there has been lots of scholarly discussion, so we’ll go with the general area of dating, c.1320-1340. The book is about 14.5 inches by 10.5 (368.3mm x 266.7mm) and contains 309 pages made of vellum (fine calfskin), with illustrations on more than 200 pages. The text was written by a single scribe, it is thought, but at least five artists were involved in the illustrating—and what illustrations!
In fact, it seems a crazy variety, and, unlike the Utrecht Psalter, the illustrations don’t match the psalms. Instead, the scenes depicted vary from the high religious—like the three Wise Men/Kings/Magi following the star to Bethlehem, from the New Testament
to all sorts of grotesque creatures
to what we love most, the agricultural and domestic scenes.
These can show a whole town
or mills, both water and wind-driven
or how the grain is raised and processed to get to the mills
or even controlling the pests who would eat the grain. (Is this a screencap from the first cat video?)
Here’s a LINK to a selection of images from the British Library, but there are more if you google “Luttrell Psalter”. See what your favorites might be.
And thanks, as always, for reading!
Let’s add here a LINK to a short film based upon the psalter, which we think you might enjoy.