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How the book was assembled
When the Book was made

How the book was assembled

Evidence of the codicology and scribes shows that the book is a compilation of five discrete sections, not necessarily made at the same time: the calendar; the full page miniatures; the Chanson of Alexis; the psalms and prayers etc, p73-414, of which the outer bifolio of quire 6 (p73,74,91,92) was made by a different scribe; and the last two illuminations (p416-417). The relationship between these sections has taxed most scholars who have explored the manuscript (see DEBATE). It affects the date of the book and ones understanding of the patron and recipient. Areas which cause the greatest problems are the pasted initial on p285 and the interface between p72 containing the words BEATUS VIR (in the Alexis quire) and p73 (in the psalm quire) which repeats the letters EATUS VIR.

This study has added four new factors to the published discussion.

  • Peter Kidd has identified Scribe 6 who wrote a new bifolio for the start of the psalms. This shows that the original start of the psalms was replaced by a new, expanded version.
  • Scribe 1, who wrote the calendar, is clearly the scribe of the pasted initial on p285. This ties the pasted initial to the same phase of production as the calendar.
  • The deeply scored orange lines added to p72, to accommodate the capitals EATUS VIR, are different from the other lines on the page. They are made in the same distinctive way as the lines in the calendar, particularly noticeable on p15. This indicates that these surplus letters are an addition to the original design.
  • The obits of Christina and her family, and the main additions to the calendar, were all inserted by Scribe 4, a St Albans man, at the same time. This shows that the book went back to St Albans (or Scribe 4 went out to Markyate) for a comprehensive editing of the calendar, after Christina’s death.

This chart illustrates how the sections are linked to each other:



Alexis Quire

Psalms etc.

St Alban & David

Artist 1 (possibly later than psalms)


Artist 1

Artist 1


Alexis Master

Alexis Master

Alexis Master (guidance only)


Scribe 1


Scribe 1 (p285)


Scribe 3 (one obit)


Scribe 3 (sole hand)

Scribe 3 (rubrics)


Scored orange lines (p15)


Scored orange lines (p72)



The following sequence of events is deduced from personal observations and will no doubt be subject to corrections and revisions as more people look at the evidence.

The project began as a book of psalms which were to be illustrated in an unusually lavish fashion, accompanied by a profusion of delightful and thought- provoking initials. It was to be prefaced by at least two miniatures, starting with St Alban and ending with David. This suggests that the initial focus was on St Albans Abbey, in which case such a lavish production would most likely be for the abbot or the institution itself. We know that at some stage Geoffrey did gave the abbey a precious psalter (not this one) completely illuminated in gold. Geoffrey was certainly an enthusiastic promoter of St Alban’s cult. He donated a great hanging for the altar on which the Invention of St Alban was woven on gold ground, and also diverted an enormous amount of abbey funds to constructing a new jewel-encrusted shrine. Work began on the shrine in 1124 but, due to demands from the starving poor, it was not completed until 1129 (GA, 91,90, 80,83). Geoffrey’s generosity conflicted with his completion of the shrine: not only was its construction delayed but its cresting was left incomplete due to other demands on his finances. Perhaps the St Albans Psalter suffered the same fate, originally intended as an institutional offering but diverted as an act of love and charity to Christina. In either case, it was being made for the chief intercessors of the abbey.

If, in this original scheme, David on p417 was to preface the psalms, then p418 (verso) was left blank because of seepage of the green paint. The psalms would therefore begin in a compact form on a recto containing the words Beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum et in via peccatorum non stetit et in cathe. Artist 1 produced both the St Alban/David miniatures and the opening initials of the psalms, in the same style and colour tones. Pricking on p417 shows the page was prepared in the same way as the early part of the psalms. Artist 1 and 2 worked on all the remaining initials without any clear division of labour. However, it is likely that the Alexis Master produced at least some of the under drawings while the book was being drafted.

The insertion of the pasted initial on p285 is crucial to one’s understanding of the book. One possibility is that, for some reason, in this methodically controlled production, a single blank was accidentally left in the middle of the book and it was later filled with an initial which just happened to be the letter C and appears to depict Christina. The other possibility is that the gap was left deliberately, in order to commission a more sophisticated artist for the C initial. He was not available in the scriptorium and had to deliver his work on a separate piece of parchment. He was unaware of the style of the other initials because his letter C is formed as a single gold band, lacking the foliage filling of the remaining letters.

If this initial is uniquely important, and represents Christina, one must ask why it appears in the middle of the book, by psalm 105. Surely a dedicatee would be honoured at the beginning, or perhaps the end, like Eadwine in the Eadwine psalter? One possibility is that the book began as a St Albans project, destined for use in the abbey, hence the preface showing the Martyrdom of St Alban. Half way through, it was decided to present the book to Christina of Markyate, and the style of the resident commissioned Artists 1 and 2 was not appropriate for her depiction.

It has been argued in the essay on Initials that the appearance and message of the initials subtly changes in the later part of the book, after p285, to reflect its new destination. Images of women become more frequent and positive. The didactic features of the captions become more insistent and arresting: figures in the initials point increasingly to the brightly coloured tag or caption rather than the black psalm text. Initials tend to become larger. Scribe 3 worked closely with the artists because some of his titles are written onto the little books in the initials and others fill in gaps which were left in the text by Scribe 2.

Once the book was destined for Christina, new work was required for her personal needs, in so far as Geoffrey perceived them. She needed her own calendar, suited to her background from Huntingdon/Ramsey and to her position as anchoress. Scribe 1 copied out a calendar clearly based on a Ramsey model with the Ramsey saints, the elaborate computus which was a speciality of that house, and managed to spell the Invention of St Alban wrongly because he was adding that feast to the calendar. It is quite likely that the model for this calendar was one attached to the psalter which Christina had brought from home. Scribe 1, a St Albans man, wrote out the calendar while the psalms were being completed by Scribe 2. The initial for p285 was pasted in presumably after Scribe 3 had finished writing his titles. Scribe 1, either during or after his work on the calendar, wrote the hexameter on the patch after it was delivered to the scriptorium and after it was pasted into the book. His ink, but not that of the initial, seeped through to p286. When Artist 1 had finished the psalter, he moved on to paint the illuminations in the calendar in a slightly more mature style.

The historiated initials gave some indication that Christina appreciated visual prompts for her silent meditations on the psalms. The miniature cycle was created to stimulate her meditation on the life of Christ. To intensify this experience for her, a large number of the scenes feature women. This prefatory cycle, magnificently painted by the Alexis Master, clearly superseded the original preface based on the Martyrdom of St Alban. As a result, the St Alban and David diptych was relegated to the end of the book. The Christ cycle ends with David being inspired by the Holy Spirit on a verso (p56).

In order to explain numerous anomalies in the construction of the book, I propose that it was originally assembled in the following sequence: miniatures, calendar, psalms, St Alban and David (pp416-7). This is the same order as the Winchester Psalter (B.L.MS. Cotton, Nero C.iv). The decision to enlarge the first psalm was taken at this stage, when the calendar and miniatures were made. Thus the psalms now began with the words EATUS VIR and the new bifolio (p73 etc). The new arrangement required a great B on a verso, to face EATUS VIR. The blank verso was conveniently at the end of the calendar (now p16, but originally immediately preceding psalm 1). Perhaps the same artist who made the Christina initial was asked to paint the B as well. He worked somewhere else, so both images were made on pasted inserts. This accounts for the blank page (p16) with stitch holes to cover a picture at the end of the calendar. The book was then given to Christina and resided at Markyate, so any further alterations created at the abbey were liable to contain mistakes or misunderstandings. She immediately sewed the curtains over the pictures which she valued, including a pasted B on p16.

The book, lavishly created at the abbey’s expense and then given away, caused immediate problems. Perhaps Christina felt embarrassed by the honour, perhaps she felt guilty about the luxury, perhaps the monks of St Albans felt resentful about the extravagant waste of resources and their abbot’s infatuation with the ‘loose woman’ (see The Alexis quire: the dialogue). To overcome all these obstacles, Scribe 3 wrote the first addition to the calendar almost immediately, namely Roger’s obit ‘The death of Roger the Hermit, monk of St Albans; whoever has this psalter should hold his memory in honour on this day’. The wording allowed Christina to own the book humbly in his honour, and the monks, who venerated Roger sufficiently to bury him in the abbey, could accept the project as a mark of respect for him.

Some time later Geoffrey decided to compile the disparate, non-liturgical material contained in the Alexis quire. All the elements are subjects which could have arisen during discussion with Christina. The introductory image to the Alexis Chanson deals with an emotional departure and is explained by Latin captions while the rest of the Chanson is in Old French. The letter from Pope Gregory about the use of images is hastily added in both Latin and French to make sure it is understood. It stands as an apologia for the profuse illustrations in the psalter, and particularly for the miniature cycle which has no accompanying text. These images are thus officially sanctioned by the pope as an aid to devotion, particularly for those who may not be able to read. The Emmaus cycle reflected Christina’s own visitations by Christ. Lastly, the quire provides a new and highly personal introduction to the psalms. Geoffrey and Christina had been discussing the struggle between good and evil and the way in which the Holy Spirit provides salvation through the psalms.

The introductory discourse required a new Beatus initial (on a verso) to show the link between the psalm author and the Holy Spirit, David and the Dove. The Alexis Master was summoned for the illustrations and Scribe 3 wrote all the text in this quire. The Alexis Master laid out the final page (p72) on which the B, the horsemen and the wrap-around text were controlled by a strict and rational geometry (see commentary p72). When this page was almost complete, the superfluous and untidy capitals EATUS VIR were added by someone, perhaps Scribe 1 who used the same method of incising and marking lines in the calendar. Why? It is quite likely that this scribe was unaware of the repeated EATUS VIR letters on p73 as the Alexis quire was presumably in the St Albans scriptorium and the psalter was already at Markyate.

The Alexis quire had to meet the rest of the book eventually, for rebinding. The order of contents was shuffled to place the Alexis Beatus page next to p73. The old B, presumed to be pasted at the end of the calendar, was peeled off, and the calendar moved to the front of the book, followed by the miniatures.

The foregoing explanation resolves several difficulties in the appearance of the book: why St Alban and David are at the back; why there is stitching on the blank verso of the calendar; why the miniatures end in a repeat of David, now on a verso; why the bifolio beginning EATUS VIR (p73) is written by a different hand to the rest of the psalter but why its initials are still by Artist 1; and why the Alexis quire, with all its various components was needed. The untidy letters EATUS VIR on p72 remain an unsatisfactory anomaly, but they are explained as an addition to the page by someone at St Albans who was not aware of the revised layout to p73 which was at Markyate and currently unavailable. In fact, the producers of the Alexis quire were even unaware of the size of the psalter, with the result that the Alexis quire had to be tightly trimmed to match.

Pächt argued that the miniature cycle and Alexis quire were inextricably linked because the three Emmaus scenes were purposely displaced from the Life of Christ in order to locate them next to Alexis, as a gloss on his life as a pilgrim (AP, 78). It was Holdsworth (1978, 193-5) who recognised the personal connection between the Emmaus scenes and an episode in the later part of Christina’s life. However, small codicological details suggests the two sections (miniatures and Emmaus) were made in totally separate stages. Scribe 3, who wrote the Alexis quire and was most assiduous in appending captions to the psalms and annotating the calendar, missed a couple of details in the miniatures: Mary’s book at the Annunciation (p19) and the label over Christ’s cross (p47) both lack his intrusive and busy rubric. Also the neat stitch marks for curtains which appear throughout the book on important pages are totally absent from the Alexis quire.

When the Book was made

Many suggestions about the date of the book have been made, ranging from c.1119 before Roger’s death to 1145, the foundation of the priory at Markyate (see DEBATE).

The foregoing analysis proposes a gradual evolution for the book. The limiting dates are ‘after 1119’ when Geoffrey became abbot of St Albans and ‘after 1155’ when Christina died. The Life makes it clear that Christina and Geoffrey only got to know each other well following the death of Christina’s mentor Roger the Hermit in c.1121-2. At some point Geoffrey began to see Christina as a supreme intercessor for himself and his monks, on a par with St Alban. This would provide the natural circumstance for Geoffrey to divert a book begun in honour of St Alban to Christina, the abbey’s new tutelary figure. After many hesitations, Christina decided to take her vows in about 1131. She required ‘frequent pleadings and humble sweetness’ from Geoffrey (Talbot, 1998, 147) in order to make up her mind. If a special occasion was required for the appearance of the book, this could be a suitable event. It is also close to 1129, the great occasion when St Alban’s relics were translated to their new shrine.

However, there is important evidence to contradict this date. Talbot (1998, 26) used the Litany image on p 403 to suggest that the book was made after the official foundation of Holy Trinity Priory ‘de Bosco’ in 1145. Nilgen (1988, 162-4) pointed out that this image relates more closely to Christina’s vision of the Trinity rather than any formal institutional event. In the Life this vision is described some paragraphs after the ‘fourth year of her profession’ which would be around 1135 (Talbot, 1998, 147, 155-6). This vision, which so crucially brought Geoffrey into the Divine Presence through Christina’s prayers, is undoubtedly a key to understanding Geoffrey’s spiritual motivation and a provides a key to many of the illustrations (see The Alexis Quire, The Dove and Geoffrey). The vision had clearly taken place before p403 was illustrated. One either has to conclude that the bulk of the book was created around c.1135, or else assume that Christina’s visions are not recorded in a strictly chronological sequence. In the Life, days of the week and feasts are certainly recorded with much greater precision than years, while the visions frequently blend and merge, outside time.

It has been suggested here (see The Alexis Quire, the departure of Alexis) that the Alexis illustration and chanson might have been prompted by Geoffrey’s poignant proposed departure in either 1136 or 1139. Christina’s vision of Christ in the Emmaus episode (Alexis quire) also happened ‘later’ in her life, mentioned after c.1140-41. So, the addition of the Alexis quire could be as late as about 1139-40 but it might be as early as the mid 1130s.

The additions to the calendar are useful for analysing the later history of the manuscript. The addition of Roger’s obit was considered crucial evidence by earlier authors. Dodwell established that Roger died around 1121-1122, so his obit was added after that date. Pächt assumed that the calendar and psalter were therefore complete before he died. However, Roger’s death is a red herring, because his obit could have been added at any subsequent date. Many of the other obits in the calendar were certainly added long after the death date. It is suggested here (see How the book was assembled) that this obit was probably the first added to the calendar, perhaps to justify the gift of the psalter to Christina. St Margaret and the Dedication of Markyate Priory must be during or shortly after 1145 when the dedication took place. When Christina died ‘after 1155’, it was decided to bring the calendar up to date. It must have been sent back to St Albans, unless Scribe 4 went out to Markyate. Scribe 4 corrected the omissions of each saint on the first day of the month, added a special range of virgins and other saints who were being venerated by Christina’s ladies at Markyate, and added the obits of Christina and her family. The way in which her family are mentioned, ‘Gregory, monk and brother of lady Christina’, ‘Beatrix, mother of lady Christina’, ‘Auti the father of lady Christina’, suggests a family involvement with their insertion. Her sister Margaret was part of the community and is not mentioned in the obits, so she may have taken responsibility for recommending these insertions. Geoffrey’s successor Abbot Robert de Gorham, who also knew Christina and delivered her needlework to the pope, died in 1166 and he is not mentioned, so these final additions are likely before his death.

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