Tag Archives: Anglo-Saxon

The Benedictional of St Æthelwold

6a00d8341c464853ef01a3fcaecb6f970b-500wiA benedictional is a book of blessings given by a bishop; some manuscripts, such as the Benedictional of St Æthelwold (904/9–984), are richly decorated with gold and colour. Unusually we actually know who wrote this particular benedictional – the scribe Godeman as he included his name in a poem, probably in shell gold, placed at the beginning of the book. The poem includes the fact that the book should be richly decorated in gold and colour, as below, as instructions were given:




6a00d8341c464853ef01a3fcaecb8b970b-500wi-1‘A bishop, the great Æthelwold, whom the Lord had made patron of Winchester, ordered a certain monk subject to him to write the present book … He commanded also to be made in this book many frames well adorned and filled with various figures decorated with many beautiful colours and with gold … Let all who look upon this book pray always that after the term of the flesh I may abide in heaven – Godeman the scribe, as a suppliant, earnestly asks this.’




CIMG3078The manuscript, written in Winchester, which was where St Æthelwold was bishop, is decorated in the  ‘Winchester style’. This includes borders of acanthus leaves intertwining around circles and vertical and horizontal lines. There is much modelling and the appearance sometimes is almost 3-D. There is lavish use of gold and pages are most striking, although it could be said that the illumination on occasion almost overpowers the text. This style is seen clearly here, a copy of the beginning of the Eadui Psalter written a little later than as the Benedictional but decorated in a similar manner. This page was prepared for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library, 2018–2019. There’s more about the creation of this page on my website here. And a blogpost with short films on how manuscripts were made here, including a film of gilding and painting this page.

6a00d8341c464853ef01a73d69da35970d-500wiThe potentially rather overwhelming aspect of the Winchester style is shown well on this folio. This full page miniature shows St Benedict and is placed in the book just before the benediction for his feast day. It is rather difficult to identify the central figure surrounded as it is by the gold and colour, with heavy and elaborate decoration at each corner, looking a little like shield bosses, and ones almost as elaborate halfway down the side. There are, though, as instructed by St Æthelwold, many arches in the book!




Screenshot 2024-05-14 at 17.43.51The lettering in the manuscript is very similar to, but not exactly the same as the Ramsey Psalter (shelfmark: BL, Harley 2904). The latter was written around the same time, and both in Winchester; the Psalter was the key manuscript used by Edward Johnston for his Foundational Hand. It is rather intriguing to think that both scribes may have been sitting next to one another in the scriptorium, and writing the letters slightly differently, perhaps even comparing notes!

There’s more information on a British Library blogpost here and it will certainly be worth looking at each page when the British Library website is up and running (this blogpost written May 2024).