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The Psalter of Cassiane

The famous Psalter of Cassiane has leaves that measure only 14 x 8.5 centimetres (5 1/2 by 3 3/8 inches). In the fourteenth century, the Nun Cassiane was able to write the entire 151 Psalms of the Septuagint text on only six leaves. She wrote two columns per page. Each column measures only 38 millimetres (1 1/2 inches) in width.

This photograph shows the entire Psalm 59 and the first verse of Psalm 60, ‘Hearken, O God, unto my supplication; attend unto my prayer.’ She took advantage of standard scribal abbreviations, but every accent and every iota subscript is in place. It is an astonishing feat of writing at the smallest possible size.

In the nineteenth century, the Psalter of Cassiane was kept in a side chapel of the monastery basilica and shown to visitors. In 1836, John Lloyd Stephens, from New York city, visited Sinai. He wrote, ‘In one of the chapels are a copy of the Evangelists, written in letters of gold by the Emperor Theodosius, and portraits of the four evangelists and the twelve apostles, and all the psalms of David, written in an inconceivably small space by a young virgin who came out and died in the desert.’

John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land, first published in 1837.

2 comments to The Psalter of Cassiane

  • Seraphim

    Thank you for sharing a portion of this exquisite psalter. Miniature book people would be in awe of it. I’ve always admired Cassiane and her work. I even like the Latin version of her Christmas kontakion.

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