September 29, 2013

29 Sep

I’m so thankful I went to the National Museum even for a third time, because I discovered an amazing jewel hidden in a dimly-lit side room.

The Faddan More Psalter exhibit fascinated me for so many reasons. This Psalter – a book of psalms – was found on the 20th of July 2006 in Tipperary County Bog. Archaeologists have discovered many items hidden in bogs such as bodies, jars, butter, and the like; but a book is an incredibly rare find, especially one of its time: the ninth century AD. Even rarer is a book found with its original cover intact – which the Faddan More had. Because of this, archaeologists may learn more about book-making techniques of the age. Of special mention to the Faddan More Psalter is that the cover is lined with bits of papyrus, a plant fiber from Middle-Eastern regions. It is presumed that the papyrus was used for stiffening the cover. The use of such a distant resource argues for the prominence and extent of the Church at the time.

Before the invention of the printing press, manuscripts were copied by hand; so few people owned books. However, the psalter was one of the most common books copied at the time. The Faddan More Psalter shares its character with famous manuscripts such as the Books of Kells and Durrow, illuminated manuscripts which fascinate me greatly. Illuminated manuscripts are essentially illustrated writings, usually of holy texts; the aforementioned Books are copies of the gospels. While the Faddan More Psalter does not appear to be heavily illustrated, it still contains designs and colors within the fonts.

These books fascinate me because of all the work involved in the creation. The pages themselves are composed of vellum, or calfskin, and the dye for the ink from ink gall. Monks of the time would meticulously copy each word onto the vellum before assembling the book, so a single book would take great amounts of effort and time, not to mention the resources needed! As an artist, I especially appreciate the time and work that goes into making one of these books, even if it isn’t illustrated.

Perhaps my favorite tidbit from the exhibit was a little fact: the book fell open when discovered to reveal “in ualle lacrimarum” – meaning “in the valley of tears.” This statement written on the page revealed the book to be a psalter. However, I like the fact because it is a poetic and beautiful picture of the discovery itself. To find such a jewel in the middle of a bog is like finding God in the valley of tears, to which the psalm attests.

While I wasn’t able to get a picture in the exhibit due to the poor lighting and enforced restrictions, there are a few pictures of the Psalter on the Internet, one of which is included here.


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