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Recently I had cause to do research into the St. Albans Psalter. My task was to ascertain if the Latin translation of the Psalms was biblical and to establish which manuscripts formed the basis for this particular Psalter when it was later translated into English. I found an interesting Wikipedia article on the history of the St. Albans Psalter but there was no information about the original manuscripts used in the translation of the Psalms. Here is a partial quote:

The St Albans Psalter, also known as the Albani Psalter or the Psalter of Christina of Markyate, is an English illuminated manuscript, one of several psalters known to have been created at or for St Albans Abbey in the 12th century. It is widely considered to be one of the most important examples of English Romanesque book production; it is of almost unprecedented lavishness of decoration, with over forty full-page miniatures, and contains a number of iconographic innovations that would endure throughout the Middle Ages. It also contains the earliest surviving example of French literature, the Chanson de St Alexis or Vie de St Alexis, and it was probably commissioned by an identifiable man and owned by an identifiable woman. - St. Albans Psalter (Wikipedia)

The only Psalter I am familiar with is the metrical Scottish Psalter, the 1650 version (based on the King James Bible) as approved by the Church of Scotland. It contains only the Psalms and, in the Free Church of Scotland, there is no musical accompaniment.

Obviously, the Psalms were originally written in Hebrew and then translated into Latin and the St. Albans Psalter was written in Latin. Later, it was translated into English. But which English Bible translation was used? I understand that the English version of this Psalter is still used today. My interest is focused on the translation of the Psalms in the St. Albans Psalter from Latin into English.

I would like (if possible) to track the history of the manuscripts used that led up to the English translation of the Psalms in the St. Albans Psalter. This question is open to Catholics and Anglicans in particular and to Bible scholars in general.

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The St Albans Psalter is a unique individual volume containing the psalms, bound together with some other material. Strictly speaking "psalter" means a copy of the psalms, but is often used to refer to books containing the psalms and other things, in the same way as a "bible" may contain the bible and other material e.g. maps.

The St Albans Psalter was not a new Latin translation of the psalms. The Latin text of the psalms is simply the standard text used in most of Western Europe, though not Rome,at the time. This is known as the Gallican text.

Jochen Bepler, Peter Kidd and Jane Geddes have published avery informative paper called The Albani Psalter. It includes the following explanation of the origins of the Gallican text.

From the fifth century three versions of the Psalms predominated. The version that is now known as the ‘Romanum’ was traditionally thought to be the work of St Jerome, but this is now doubted. He was certainly responsible for three versions of the Psalms, but the first only survives as snippets quoted in other works. After this he produced what is now known as the ‘Gallicanum’ version, which he based on Greek texts (which had them-selves been derived from Hebrew). And finally he produced a translation based directly on Hebrew manuscripts, the ‘Hebraicum’ version. The Romanum version of the Psalms was widely used in Europe until the ninthcentury, and continued in use in Italy until the sixteenth century; it is still used in thebasilicas of the Vatican and San Marco, Venice. It was also used in English churches until the late tenth or early eleventh century. The Gallicanum version of the Psalms became especially popular in Gaul (hence the name), and was adopted for liturgical use, superseding the Romanum version in most places from the ninth century onwards. This is the version that appears in the ‘Vulgate’ version of the whole Bible, found in mostmanuscript and printed Latin Bibles from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. The Hebraicum version of the Psalms never found very wide favour, because it was too different from the versions which were already very well known and well established, butit is occasionally found in manuscripts with double or triple versions laid out in parallel columns alongside one or both of the other versions for comparative purposes

Jerome translated what became known as the Gallican from the Greek Septuagint, which in turn was a translation from the Hebrew into Greek.

The scribes who produced the Albani psalms merely copied from other copies. There was no thought of producing a new translation.

I am not aware of the St Alban's psalter, the physical book, per se, being translated into English and still being used today. Miles Coverdale made a translation from the Latin Gallican text into English in the 1530s. In doing this he simply translated from Latin to English. Coverdale's translation can therefore be considered a translation from the text used in the St Alban's Psalter.

Coverdale's psalms were included in the first Book of Common Prayer, in 1549. The 1662 edition replaced all Scripture quotations with those in the King James Bible, with the exception of the psalms. It had been intended to replace the psalms too, but this was objected to because people knew the Coverdale versions, particularly important for congregational singing in an age of linmited literacy. Coverdale's are generally also thought more rhythmical.

Even today the psalms in the Book of Common Prayer are still Coverdale's, and are still used in the Church of England, most commonly at Evensong, though modern versions are authorised as an alternative.

There is no doubt that the KJV, produced by a team of scholars translating from the Hebrew, is much more accurate than the BCP translated by one man from a Latin translation of a Greek translation of the Hebrew.

In the days before football rivalry the English could boast that they chanted the exact words of the psalms whereas the Scots, by using metrical adaptations, were less Bibllical. The Scots on the other hand pointed out that their metrical versions were based on a much more acccurate translation.

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  • Is the 'Gallican' text the same as Jerome's Vulgate ? I am not clear. – Nigel J Sep 26 '20 at 14:23
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    @NigelJ Yes. The Gallican text made use of Jerome’s Vulgate. – Ken Graham Sep 26 '20 at 16:25
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    Excellent answer, but do you have any links about the history of how the Psalms used in the C of E in the Book of Common Prayer are Coverdale's? That would be useful. Laughed out loud at your last paragraph. – Lesley Sep 27 '20 at 7:37
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The original text of the St. Albans Psalter is in Latin, as you say, and although it was taken from Jerome's Vulgate rendition of the Bible, the history of that is complex as he produced three versions of the Psalms.

The Wikipedia link you give also adds this information:

“The St Albans Psalter contains a month-by-month calendar that includes important feast days, psalms, hymns, prayers and a letter from Pope Gregory the Great. It was commissioned by the Abbot of St. Albans Geoffrey de Gorham as a gift for his platonic friend Christina of Markyate. Christina was an Anglo Saxon nun.”

Another Wikipedia link gives this further information on developments following 1535:

"Coverdale based his work in part on Tyndale's translation of the New Testament (following Tyndale's November 1534 Antwerp edition) and of those books which were translated by Tyndale: the Pentateuch, and the book of Jonah. Other Old Testament Books he translated from the German of Luther and others. Based on Coverdale's translation of the Book of Psalms in his 1535 Bible, his later Psalter has remained in use in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer down to the present day, and is retained with various minor corrections in the 1926 Irish Book of Common Prayer, the 1928 US Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myles_Coverdale#Coverdale's_Translation_of_the_Bible:_1535

The Anglican Service Book has this to say concerning the Psalter:

“The Psalter used in this book is that of the American Book of Common Prayer 1928. A version of the Psalter in the Great Bible of 1539, itself an adaptation of Miles Coverdale's translation of 1535, it is essentially the same translation used in Anglican Churches around the world.” http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/Anglican_Service_Book/psalms.html

“The Psalter used in the Episcopal Church, until the revision of 1979 was essentially that of Coverdale's translation of the Bible, which had been used as the Psalter in all previous Books of Common Prayer, back to the first in 1549. Over the years, however, changes were made in the American Psalter — particularly with the introduction of the 1928 BCP, which made a great many changes.” More information here: http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1928/Psalms.htm

This is a scant history of MSS used in the Christian history of producing Psalters, but an essential point seems to be that, based on Coverdale's translation of the Book of Psalms in his 1535 Bible, his later Psalter has remained in use in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer down to the present day. https://www.gotquestions.org/Coverdale-Bible.html

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