The Macclesfield Psalter

I am delighted to be able to share with you that the Keeper of Manuscripts and Printed Books at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, has given me permission to publish images of the Macclesfield Psalter on this blog.

Macclesfield Psalter - Dragon and Lion folio 43vMacclesfield Psalter - folio 49v
Macclesfield Psalter - folio 53r








The modern day story of this beautiful medieval illuminated manuscript is just as remarkable as the manuscript itself. Unknown and undiscovered, the book lay for centuries on the shelves of the library at Shirburn Castle, the seat of the Earl of Macclesfield. It was only discovered when the Earl’s library was dispersed and auctioned in 2004. The resulting Sotheby’s auction of the library saw the psalter being sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum in America. Correctly understanding that this was a work of great British national importance, the British Government’s Arts Minister placed a temporary export bar on it until early 2005 so to give British organisations the chance to buy it  – with the recommendation that it should by kept by public institution within Britain. The Fitzwilliam Museum (part of Cambridge University) recognised both the national importance of the psalter and the East Anglian connection. A public campaign was started, and, in the Fitzwilliams’ own words:

This was a campaign in which no contribution was too small. The support of the public was truly astounding and cannot be measured in figures. If listed in full, the names of donors would fill up a book larger than the Macclesfield Psalter.’

Macclesfield Psalter – Discovery and Acquisition

Fortunately, the public campaign was successful – the Macclesfield Psalter arrived in the Fitzwilliam Museum in February 2005 – where it still remains.  I am one of those fortunate enough to have seen it in ‘real life’ – although admittedly only under the glass case of its display cabinet.  The story of the Macclesfield Psalter and its patron, provenance, and East Anglian context is divulged here.

Over the coming weeks and months, I look forward to showing you folios  from this wonderful Psalter and exploring together the exquisite images of a lost age. Today, New Year’s Day, we start with the medieval calendar for January – containing the lists of the important feasts for Christ, the Virgin Mary and that’s month’s saints.  Click on the image to open a new window where you can use your browser’s zoom to see the illustration in its full glory (400% works best for me).


Macclesfield Psalter - January‘January’ folio 2r from The Macclesfield Psalter,
probably produced at Gorleston, East Anglia circa 1330
Gold & tempera on vellum, 17cm x 10.8cm,
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

If you want to read more about The Macclesfield Psalter from my blog, please do subscribe either by using the ‘Subscribe via Email’ button top right of my blog, or the button at the very bottom.  If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, then please do ‘Like’ it with the Facebook button below.

All digital images from the Macclesfield Psalter appear by courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum and may not be reproduced (© The Fitzwilliam Museum).

Further reading
Stella Panayotova The Macclesfield Psalter: A Complete Facsimile (2008)
Stella Panayotova The Macclesfield Psalter Book (Cambridge, 2005)
Stella Panayotova The Macclesfield Psalter (PDF format on CD)(Cambridge, 2005)

Katherine Meikle Walker, Medieval Cats, (London, 2011).
Katherine Meikle Walker, Medieval Pets, (London, 2012).

You may also be interested in the following
– Images from the British Library’s online images from the early modern period
– Images from the medieval illuminated manuscripts
– The Macclesfield Psalter

© Essex Voices Past 2012-2013.

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