Did common folk have the opportunity to read or hear psalms in the lingua franca (common language between church and common folk) starting in 1000 in Europe? I think in the case of Africa the answer would be no.

I'm asking this because I'd like to know if it is true that the Bible or even psalms have been available to read or hear by common people in Europe/Africa starting from the time that Old Testament was first published to be read in synagogues.

I'm asking that did common folk have availability or opportunity to read or hear psalms in common language starting in 1000 in Europe?

In other words did they have opportunity to read psalms in common language or hear psalms read in mass in common language starting in 1000 AD in Europe?

  • 1
    The Old Testament was read in synagogues long before 1000. Is that the first time that it was read in a language other than Hebrew? Oct 14 '15 at 20:22
  • 3
    I'd say that having books available of any sort might have been a stretch, but hearing the Psalms spoken in translation maybe less so. Oct 14 '15 at 20:45
  • 4
    Are you asking about availability of written psalms in 'common languages', or about ability to read? Because most of the 'common people' couldn't read in 1000AD. Oct 14 '15 at 20:50
  • @DJClayworth I'm asking about whether common people had opportunity to read psalms... In other words, did they in general have possibility to read psalms if they wanted to read psalms in common language and if they had ability to read psalms. So I would like to know that was psalms available starting from 1000 AD for common people to read and also if they wanted to read did they have ability to read psalms in general?
    – alvoutila
    Oct 15 '15 at 7:54
  • 4
    Did common folk have the opportunity to read psalms in the lingua franca (common language between church and common folk) starting in 1000 in Europe -- Clearly the answer is no, because the common folk couldn't read at all then. The European literacy rate didn't exceed 50% (one definition of "common folk", I suppose) until well after 1800, so even if a Bible was available in the common language, most people couldn't read it.
    – Flimzy
    Oct 15 '15 at 11:55

To add to DJClayworth's excellent answer on the history of English translation, there has been a consistent and strong push to translate the Bible (especially the New Testament) into the vernacular see the very early days of Christianity. Below is a brief outline of the history of translation during the first millennium (minus English, which has already been well-covered)


Among the first Christian translations of the Bible is the Syriac language version, commonly known as the Peshitta. The general consensus among scholars is that work on the Peshitta in the second century as an Old Testament Translation. Following Bishop Rabbula's revision of the New Testament text in the fifth century, the Syrian Church (Nestorians and Jacobites) ordered a copy of the text placed in every church, making it the official scripture of the Church.


Although Greek remained the dominant language of the Roman empire until the third century, Latin translations began the appear already during the second century. Known collectively as the "Old Latin Version", there appear to have been at least two or three different Latin translations in circulation by the forth century, with many textual variants.

To combat the problem of variant versions, Pope Damascus ordered a fresh translation into the vernacular. Arguably the most successful translation ever made, the Latin Vulgate was translated from 382-204 by St. Jerome. The version was designed for common usage ("vulgate" means common), as "high Latin" was not well understood by the common people. Jerome's New Testament was an update of the Old Latin into the common language, while his Old Testament was a fresh translation from the original Hebrew (instead of the LXX as had previously been used.)


Egypt was one of the early pillars of the Christian church, so it is not surprising that vernacular translations were available from an early date. By the start of the fourth century, the New Testament had been translated into the Saidic dialect of Coptic. Old Testament translations appeared shortly thereafter, translated from the LXX. Further south, a Bohairic version of the Bible was developed in the following century. Its popularity eventually gave rise to Bohairic becoming the official dialect of the Coptic Church.


Although it is not clear when it initially arose, the Ethiopic version of the Old Testament appears to have been revised during the forth century, using the original Hebrew as the basis for its Old Testament. A New Testament translation was completed in the fifth century, possibly based on the Syriac version.


As Christianity spread into the Germanic region, the need for a local version of the Bible arose. According to church historians, the second bishop of the Ostrogoths, Ulfilas, invented an alphabet for the task bring writing to the tribe for the first time. Whether or not he actually invented the alphabet, he certainly made the first Gothic translation of the Old Testament (most books) and the New Testament, completing his work around 350. It is the oldest known literary work in any Germanic dialect.

During the ninth century, Charlemagne had the translation updated to the then-current vernacular dialect, Frankish.


The missionary effort of the Syrian church necessitated a translation of the Bible into Armenian. Like the Gothic version, church history suggests an alphabet was created specifically to make translation possible. An initial version of the New Testament was completed by St. Mesrob in the early fifth century. An Old Testament translation followed shortly after. A revised version on the New Testament based on the "best Greek manuscripts" was completed in the eighth century.


Christianity was brought to Georgia in the forth century and a Georgian translation of the entire Bible was commissioned in the fifth century, translated from the Armenian version. Like the Gothic and Armenian versions, an alphabet was developed specifically to enable Bible translation.


During the ninth century, the Moravian Empire rose to power in Eastern Europe. Rostislav, founder of the empire, ordered priests to conduct mass in the vernacular, necessitating a translation from the Latin Vulgate to Slavonic. To complete the task, the monks commissioned to make the translation created the Cyrillic alphabet. Due in large part to the success of their Bible translation, the Cyrillic alphabet superseded the existing Glagolithic alphabet and serves of the basis of modern Russian, Ukranian, Serbo-Crotian, and Bulgarian.

Summary of the situation in the year 1000

In the year 1000, most people who could read, could read Latin. It was the primary language spoken in southern Europe. For these people, the Latin Vulgate would be a perfectly accessible translation. In central Europe, a variety of Germanic translations of the Bible were available, including a recently updated version in Frankish. In England, multiple vernacular translations were available. In Eastern Europe, the Bible had been translated into Slavonic dialects, and in the South East translations were available in Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian.

In Africa, versions in Coptic and Ethopic were widely available.

Thus, most Europeans would have been able to hear the Psalms read in a dialect that they understood. Of course, few people could actually read the Psalms, since they could not read at all. But, yes, the message of the Psalms and the Bible in general was available to the common people of Europe, as well as parts of Africa.

Source: Most of the information in this post comes from From God to Us by Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix.

  • The only slight comment I have is that by 1000 Latin was not "the primary language spoken in southern Europe". That had already developed into early forms of Spanish and Italian. The Latinate roots of the language were still available, but familiarity with Latin wasn't a given simply from knowing the language. Oct 18 '15 at 15:30
  • +1 for answering the question of whether common folk had opportunity to hear psalms in their common language. I would like to get either firm reason why should I read From God to Us or some source from internet if your only source isn't From God to Us? You know.
    – alvoutila
    Dec 2 '15 at 20:29
  • @alvoutila From God to Us is primarily about the formation of the canon. If that is a subject of interest to you, then I would recommend it as a good introduction to the subject. The last few chapters trace the history of translation and were the source material for this post. Those chapters are also good, but only about 20-25% of the total material
    – ThaddeusB
    Dec 10 '15 at 19:48
  • @ThaddeusB.: I guess it is question of translations, because if there were translations in common tongue eq. in Europe, then there was opportunity to have bible in common tongue in churches and then there was opportunity for folk to have psalms read to them in mass if they attended the mass. But now I know that in 1000 AD apart from circa 10% of the folk others had not opportunity to read psalms in those days.
    – alvoutila
    Dec 13 '15 at 19:05

Let's take English (and it's predecessors) as representative. Wikipedia has all your information on the existence of Bible translations into English.. Some select quotes:

  • Toward the end of the 7th century, the Venerable Bede began a translation of scripture into Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon).
  • Aldhelm (c. 639–709) translated the complete Book of Psalms and large portions of other scriptures into Old English.
  • In the 10th century an Old English translation of the Gospels was made in the Lindisfarne Gospels.
  • The Wessex Gospels (also known as the West-Saxon Gospels) are a full translation of the four gospels into a West Saxon dialect of Old English. Produced in approximately 990.

So Psalms (and other scripture) certainly existed in the common tongue of the British people in 1000AD. It is unlikely that they would have had access to such books, since books were rare and valuable items in 1000AD. And of course, since the vast majority of people could not read, it would have done them no good if they were accessible.

  • 1
    On the other hand, we have plenty of homilies (e.g. in Old English) which would have been heard by many people, and which often included translation of Bible passages. Oct 17 '15 at 3:21
  • DJClayworth: Did common folk have the opportunity to hear psalms in common language starting in 1000 in Europe? I think you say that answer is yes? What about in Africa?
    – alvoutila
    Dec 2 '15 at 20:20
  • Matt Gutting: Do you have references for your claim of having plenty of homilies?
    – alvoutila
    Dec 2 '15 at 20:20

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