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Books for Devotion: Bibles, Psalters and Breviaries

Bibles, Psalters and Breviaries

Bibles, Psalters

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Psalms have always served as a primary source of prayer. Although the Book of Psalms now functions as the centerpiece of the Christian Bible, during most of the Middle Ages the Psalter had circulated as an independent liturgical book. Indeed, most Bibles produced before the thirteenth century were multi-volume sets comprised of the Pentateuch, the Prophets, Wisdom Books, Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament. During the early thirteenth century, theologians at Paris abandoned the lectern Bible format in favor of single-volume Bibles that could be held in one hand. Clearly, these were intended for individual reading. Produced in great numbers, the handsomely illuminated Parisian "pocket Bibles" exhibited extra-elaborate decoration in the Book of Psalms. Included as a regular feature of manuscript Bibles for the first time, the Book of Psalms, or Psalter, served as an essential focus for personal devotion. The exhibition includes a small illuminated Parisian Bible written c. 1250, as well as Johann Froben’s Basel edition of 1491, the first "pocket Bible" to come from the printing press.

The earliest genre of manuscript designed specifically for individualized prayer, the Psalter was also one of the first books printed by Gutenberg’s colleagues at Mainz. But these printed Psalters were massive folios intended for liturgical use in monasteries. Two printed Psalters issued in smaller formats for individual use are exhibited in this section. The earlier of the two was printed in both Latin and German at Augsburg in 1499. The other is the Sefer Tehillim (Utrecht, 1688) in English and Hebrew, edited by Johannes Leusden expressly to aid Rev. John Eliot and New England’s twenty-four "Indian ministers" in their missionary work.