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A Century of Giving

The Macclesfield Psalter

East Anglia


The Fitzwilliam Museum: MS 1-2005

Macclesfield Psalter


Giant skate fish
folio 68 (recto)

Macclesfield Psalter


The fox-doctor
folio 98 (recto)- detail

Macclesfield Psalter


Rabbit riding hound
folio 115 (verso)- detail

This remarkable manuscript, combining traditional devotional texts and imagery with imaginative and ribald humour, was produced at a time when East Anglia was one of the foremost artistic centres in Europe.

However, it remained largely unknown until 2004 when a last-minute fundraising campaign, attracting huge public support and media attention, prevented its sale overseas.

The Friends' contribution towards the £1.7 million purchase price, committed by the Director out of their annual subscriptions, was £50,000 - the largest in their history. Some Friends made additional donations as private individuals. This was a campaign in which no contribution was too small.

The Fitzwilliam is undoubtedly the Psalter's rightful home. It is the most important addition to a group of East Anglian manuscripts which the Director, Sydney Cockerell, had first defined and studied in the early 20th century.

When it arrived in the Museum, this major work of medieval illumination was a 'conservation disaster'. The 252 sheets, comprising a book of psalms and prayers, and the Office of the Dead, were in three parts. Although small enough to hold in the palm of a hand, it had once been cropped - probably to fit a smaller bookshelf - and had had three different bindings.

The repair and rebinding, carried out on site by Bob Proctor, the Museum's parchment conservator, took two years. For those interested in learning more about the process, there is an interactive on the museum website. Digital images of individual leaves are also available, allowing you to zoom in on particular details.

A CD-Rom of the digitised manuscript and a complete reproduction in print together with a commentary, are also available from the Museum Shop Stella Panayotova, The Macclesfield Psalter, Thames & Hudson, 2008

The Psalter was recently included in an exhibition about Sydney Cockerell and the Fitzwilliam. After resting for 4-5 months, it will once again become part of the rotating display in Gallery 32.

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