Unique medieval manuscript in the Utrecht University Library collection
The Utrecht Psalter is a book of psalms dating to the Carolingian dynasty. It’s one of the crown jewels of the Utrecht University Library collection. In October 2015 the Utrecht Psalter was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. The richly illustrated, handwritten book was created nearly 1,200 years ago. A psalter is a collection of the 150 psalms from the Old Testament of the Bible. Those of the Christian and Jewish faiths use the Psalms during their prayers and services. Each psalm tells a different story.
Utrecht Psalter: a trendsetter
In addition to the 150 psalms from the Bible, the Utrecht Psalter also contains sixteen Biblical hymns and prayers. What makes the Psalter so unique is that every psalm, prayer or song is framed by illustrations telling its story. The drawings are from the hands of eight different artists and are characterised by a surrealistic, dynamic style. For the time, they were extremely innovative and advanced. And it’s a style that was imitated for centuries after their production, making the book a true trendsetter.
It’s likely that the Psalter was created in the Abbey of Hautvillers, not far from Reims in approximately 830, commissioned by Archbishop Ebbo of Reims (816 – 835). After traveling extensively, in 1716, the Psalter made the trip from England to the Netherlands and came into the possession of Utrecht resident Willem de Ridder. He gifted the manuscript to Utrecht University Library.