From The Guardian:
Thomas Becket’s personal book of psalms ‘found in Cambridge library’
Historian claims the Psalter is ‘undoubtedly’ the property of martyred saint, and that he may have been holding it when he was murdered
A Cambridge academic believes he has discovered Thomas Becket’s personal book of psalms, an ancient manuscript the martyred saint and so-called “turbulent priest” may have been holding when he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
Dr Christopher de Hamel, a historian at Cambridge University, stumbled across the book during a conversation with a colleague. De Hamel, author of the just-released Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, had said that books belonging to saints were generally not used as relics, and his fellow historian replied that he knew of an exception.
He showed de Hamel an entry from the Sacrists’ Roll of Canterbury Cathedral, dating to 1321, which gave a detailed description of a Psalter, [Talk about a great example of scripta manent!] or book of psalms, in a jewelled binding, that was then preserved as a relic at the shrine of Becket in the cathedral. Becket, archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170, was murdered by four knights inside the cathedral, who took on the task after supposedly hearing Henry II remark: “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”
De Hamel said that he read the Psalter’s description, and realised he had seen it before: an Anglo-Saxon Psalter in Cambridge’s Parker Library bears the same description on its flyleaf. It is undoubtedly the same manuscript from Becket’s shrine, he believes.
A 16th-century note says the book once belonged to Becket, but “everyone has always said it was ridiculous,” said de Hamel. “Becket is a big name and there’s a list of his books. This isn’t one of them.” But a link had not previously been made between the 14th-century inventory and the Parker manuscript.
In a piece in Saturday’s Guardian Review, De Hamel lays out how the Psalter was clearly made in Canterbury, and dates from the very early 11th century. It was probably, he said, made for the private use of an archbishop, likely Alphege, who was archbishop from 1005 to 1016, when he was killed by the Danes in Greenwich. Alphege was later canonised, and was Becket’s personal patron saint.
“People hadn’t matched it up, and suddenly there it was,” said de Hamel. “The inscription says this is the Psalter of the archbishop of Canterbury. It clearly is a private Psalter … I assume Becket had come across the book and taken it into his own possession.”
The academic also points to the stained glass window in Trinity Chapel in Canterbury, which shows Becket holding a book of the Psalter’s size, in a similarly decorated binding. The window is above the site of the shrine of Becket, and is almost contemporary to the saint’s death, made around 1200. The shrine was destroyed in the 16th century by Henry VIII. [Monster.]
“Of course he is going to be shown holding something you could have seen on the shrine – that’s part of the marketing,” said de Hamel. “The shrine was destroyed, and nothing from it survives, except possibly this. It would have been seen by pilgrims to the shrine [including] Chaucer. And it was sitting quietly in Cambridge.”
De Hamel said he was “absolutely sure” that the Parker library manuscript is the book that sat on Becket’s shrine. “Whether it really belonged to Becket – well, I wasn’t there. But I bet it did. [The creators of the shrine] obviously absolutely believed it was his. And I expect it was,” he said.
Read the rest there.
Every once in a while fantastic finds are made, which boggle the mind. For example, in 1969 Johannes Divjak discovered in the Bibliothèque Municipale of Marseilles 29 letters by St. Augustine of Hippo that were completely unknown. Think… Rosetta Stone, Dead Sea Scrolls, the body of King Richard III.
It’s that little pause before the last word that really does it.
When I’m at last elected and take the name Pius or Clement or something, that’s what my extremely rare public appearances will be like. Then we shall disappear back into the Apostolic Palace not to be seen for stretches of time so long that people will speculate that we have died.