Abbreviated Psalter of the Book of Cerne

I made a really exciting find today! While skimming through Martin McNamara’s The Psalms in the Early Irish Church I picked up on the trail of another abbreviated psalter contemporary with Bede’s abbreviated psalter!

There is an Abbreviated Psalter in the Book of Cerne, which dates to the 8th century. The psalter is found in one of the three codexes bound in the Book of Cerne, called ‘The Book of Æthelwald the Bishop”. The Prayerbook of Æthelwald has been traced to northern England in the 8th century and linked to Æthelwald, Bishop of Lindisfarne 724-740. So he was the bishop of Lindisfarne for the last decade of Bede’s life.

The contents of the Prayer book of Æthelwald are given as the passion and resurrection of Christ accounts from all four gospels, a collection of 74 prayers, then followed by the abbreviated psalter, and ended (in its current truncated form) with an apocryphal dialogue between Adam, Eve, and Christ in limbo patrum.

McNamara describes the abbreviated psalter as:

“composed of verses from consecutive psalms, strung together so as to form a continuous prayer (e.g. Pss. 1.1, 2; 2.1; 3.4; 5.2 etc). We have another early example of such an abbreviation of the Psalter in the Collectio Psalterii Bedae found in Migne’s edition of Alcuin’s works (PL 101, cols 569-79)…. The abbreviated psalter of the Book of Cerne, like most other times in the Prayer Book of Aedueluald, was most probably intended for private devotion.” (p. 41)

McNamara notes that the text is that of the Romanum, not the Gallican psalter. This, he suggests, indicates that it was originally compiled in England rather than Ireland.

Well, this is all very exciting…my early 8th century texts of the abbreviated psalter just doubled. Two distinctive abbreviated psalters within a single subkingdom, within one generation. Could it be that Bede saw an abbreviated psalter from Lindisfarne and decided to make his own with the Hebraicum? Looks like I will be hunting for more information on the Book of Cerne!


Martin McNamara. (2000) The Psalms in the Early Irish Church. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement Series 165. Sheffield Academic Press.


3 thoughts on “Abbreviated Psalter of the Book of Cerne

  1. These moments are always wonderful. There are so may possibilities for connections between these two, it brims with hope for your research and digging–also an invigorating feeling!

  2. A little more digging shows that there are theories out there that the Aethelwald in question might be Bishop Aethelwald of Lichfield 818-830. So now I’m even more eager for Michelle Brown’s book on the Book of Cerne to arrive at my library. It still brings up the question of primacy because Bede’s abbreviated psalter is first mentioned by Alcuin (d. 804), who is not that much earlier than Aethelwald of Lichfield. Given the Irish influence in the prayerbook, it might be a copy of an older abbreviated psalter. So there is still influence from Lindisfarne, plus Lichfield was the center of the cult for St Chad.

    Oh well…more stuff to work with is always good. 🙂

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