Utrecht Psalter added to UNESCO register

Unique medieval manuscript from the collection of Utrecht University Library

Een fragment uit het Utrechts Psalter

The Utrecht Psalter will be added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. On this list with documentary heritage of world significance we also find the original Diary of Anne Frank, the archives of the VOC (‘Dutch East Indian Company’) and Marx’ scheme for his Communist Manifesto and his notes on Das Kapital. The richly illustrated psalmbook was made almost 1200 years ago and has been kept in Utrecht University Library since 1716. Starting 21 October the Utrecht Psalter will be on show for a month in Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht. 

The Utrecht Psalter was made around 830 in or near Reims (France). No single other medieval manuscript in a Dutch collection has been discussed so often or has seen so many reproductions both in print and digitally. It contains 150 psalms and sixteen Biblical songs which have been illustrated in a way that was revolutionary for the time. Via England the Psalter eventually arrived in Utrecht. In 1716 it was donated to the library of Utrecht University where it has been kept ever since.

"The ninth-century manuscript continues to attract both experts and laymen. You understand the time in which it was made better when you see how the interplay of text and image works in the Psalter."
Professor Marco Mostert, Medieval written culture, Utrecht University


Because of the beautiful illustrations the manuscript reads like a comic book in which parts of the texts are depicted above the psalms. The dynamic and sketchy style of the drawings in the Utrecht Psalter was innovative for those days. As regards subject, the illustrations are sometimes reminiscent of the work of Jeroen Bosch. The style and the illustrations were to be imitated in France and England for centuries to come, making the book a real trendsetter.


From 21 October to 22 November The Utrecht Psalter will be exhibited, together with other top pieces, in the Catharina hall of Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht.

"What makes the Utrecht Psalter so special is that you keep discovering new things. However, the manuscript is still veiled in mystery."
Bart Jaski, keeper of manuscripts at Utrecht University Library

Memory of the World Register

Documentary heritage consists of documents which are important to keep because of their value to history, culture and science. These documents are essential to understanding the past and the present. That is why the Memory of the World programme promotes their preservation and accessibility and supports worldwide awareness of the significance of these documents.