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Treasures behind a curtain

Treasures behind a curtain

Manuscript Leeuwarden, Tresoar, PBF 688 hs is a 13th-century psalter – the text of all the psalms from the Bible. The entire cycle was used weekly in the monastery’s worship services, so this is a book present in every monastery library and church in the Middle Ages. This copy from the 13th century stands out because it is particularly beautifully executed. A full-page miniature illustrates Psalm 1: “Beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum” (Bible, New International Version: ” Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked”). We see the letter B containing a picture of Jesse’s tree: at the bottom, Jesse (Isaiah) is sleeping and from him grows a trunk tree. In the branches of that tree are the kings of Judah. At the top, we see Jesus with the Holy Spirit on his head in the form of a dove.

Leeuwarden, Tresoar, PBF 688 hs, f. 23v

That it is a beautiful image was also thought by the users of this manuscript. Along the upper edge of the leaf we see a number of puncture holes. We can infer that a kind of curtain was attached to the page to protect the picture (Rudy 2011, 10-13; Rudy 2016, 114-115).

We also find holes of this kind along the top edge of f. 56v, where there is a beautifully decorated initial D(ixi custodiam), the initial letter of Psalm 38. Psalm 38 (39 in the modern count) reads, “Dixi custodiam vias meas ut non delinquam in lingua mea” (Bible, New International Version: “I said, ‘I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.’”). The blue and gold of this initial pops off the page as if it was painted yesterday instead of more than 600 years ago.

Leeuwarden, Tresoar, PBF 688 hs, f. 56v

Mariken Teeuwen
Jos M.M. Hermans, Aline Pastoor, De Oudheid in handen. Klassieke handschriften in de Provinsjale & Buma Biblioteek fan Fryslân, Leeuwarden 2002, pp. 94-95.

Kathryn Rudy 2011, ‘Kissing Images, Unfurling Rolls, Measuring Wounds, Sewing Badges and Carrying Talismans: Considering Some Harley Manuscripts through the Physical Rituals they Reveal’. In: Electronic British Library Journal 2011; pp. 1-56.

Kathryn Rudy 2016, Piety in Pieces: How Medieval Readers Customized their Manuscripts, Open Book Publishers 2016,

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