Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Initial C for Psalm 105, showing a woman interceding with Christ
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    In the Saint Albans Psalter, the capital for Psalm 105 features a woman reaching towards Christ, and a group of monks who have taken shelter behind her. Many scholars have convincingly argued that the woman is Christina, anchoress of Markyate, and the monk immediately behind her, with his hand on her shoulder, is Abbot Geoffrey of Saint Albans.

    Since the time they met in 1130, Abbot Geoffrey and Christina of Markyate were very close friends. Their friendship broke from the traditional medieval model in which the male cleric provided spiritual advice for an anchoress, a woman who had taken up a solitary, religious life usually enclosed in a single room. Instead, the anchoress served as the advisor, providing guidance and direction for the abbot. It is highly likely that Abbot Geoffrey commissioned both the vita (life) of Christina, as well as the Saint Albans Psalter in order to enhance the standing of the abbey as a holy site.

    The illumination, which shows Christina standing in the earthly green zone of the initial and reaching with one hand into the celestial blue space occupied by Christ, has traditionally been interpreted as a reflection of her active role as a holy woman and conduit to the divine. As a person who experienced divine visions, which she shared with the abbot, the anchoress mediated between the earthly and heavenly realms. In this image, she is shown crossing over the boundary between the secular and spiritual realms in order to bring the monks to Christ. Her main purpose as a spiritual intercessor for Geoffrey and his monks is reinforced by the text above the image that reads: “Spare your monks, I beseech you, O merciful kindness of Jesus.” Christina was meant to read these words aloud as she looked at the illumination for the sake of stimulating her prayers.

    The strong emphasis that this illumination places upon Christina’s role as intercessor suggests that this manuscript was not created primarily for the benefit of the anchoress, but rather the monks for whom she was supposed to pray. In this case, the priorities of Abbot Geoffrey overruled her own. While this illumination and manuscript may not have been the devotional work that Christina wanted, they were clearly the things that Abbot Geoffrey thought he needed for the welfare of his soul and those of his monks.

    This miniature was not an original part of the text. Rather, it was executed on a separate piece of parchment and was then glued into the Psalter over blank space. The artist who created this capital does not have any other work elsewhere in the manuscript. Scholars have proposed three possibilities for this oddity: first, the patch was commissioned as a trial piece by a special artist before the book format was decided; second, the patch was added years later because it was perceived to be more stylistically advanced than the designs of the other initials; and lastly, the patch was commissioned while the book was in progress, and was intended to mark a new section of the text.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Christina of Markyate, Recluse Geoffrey, Abbot of Saint Albans Hagiography Heaven Intercession Jesus Christ in Art Monks
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 12
  • Date: 1140- 1150
  • Related Work: See the entire Saint Albans Psalter digitized on the University of Aberdeen website with an added commentary and essays: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/stalbanspsalter/english/translation/trans002.shtml
  • Current Location: Germany, Hildesheim, St.Godehead church
  • Original Location: England, Saint Albans, Saint Albans Abbey
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (Parchment); Paint
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 27.6/18.4/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Collins, Kristen. "Pictures and the Devotional Imagination in the St. Albans Psalter." in The St. Albans Psalter: Painting and Prayer in Medieval England edited by Collins, Kristen, Peter Kidd, and Nancy K. Turner. J. Paul Getty Museum (2013). 9-64.;
    Geddes, Jane. "The St. Albans Psalter: The Abbot and the Anchoress." in Christina of Markyate: A Twelfth-century Holy Woman edited by Fanous, Samuel and Henrietta Leyser. Routledge (2005). 197-216.;
    Horn, Matthew. "To Take Care of the Monks: Christina of Markyate and the Medieval Spiritual/Material Market." LATCH 5 (2013). 1-27.;
    "The St Albans Psalter. Commentary Page 285 University of Aberdeen." University of Aberdeen, 2003. Web. http://www.abdn.ac.uk/stalbanspsalter/english/commentary/page285.shtml. 22 Sept. 2014.;