Psalm 133, 12 April 2015

Psalm 133 in the Vespasian Psalter; British Library
Psalm 133 in the Vespasian Psalter, 8th century, with 9th C translation into Old English. British Library.

A beautiful old Anglo-Saxon manuscript in the British Library from the 8th Century, shown above, records the psalms in Latin in an insular uncial script (capital letters) in common use around 700 CE. The British Library’s description of this manuscript, titled Cotton MS Vespasian A 1, is simply:

A Roman Psalter (‘The Vespasian Psalter’), including prefaces, canticles, hymns and liturgical texts.

Easily seen, the initial capital begins the word Ecce, ‘Behold’. The text line in dark red gives the psalm number (132 in the old Vulgate system) and the descriptor ‘Song of ascents’ (canticum graduum). This text then follows:

Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity. (Verse 1, Anglican BCP)

The British Library description goes on to reveal in this same matter-of-fact tone some quite impressive information:

The text is the earliest surviving example of St Jerome’s first translation of the Psalms (the Roman version), first written c. 384. It was copied during the second quarter of the 8th century.

A close examination (click on the image) reveals some smaller writing in a brown ink between the lines. Friend BL continues:

An Old English gloss was added around the second quarter of the 9th century by the Royal Bible Master Scribe, whose hand appears in other manuscripts owned by or made at St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury. This gloss is the oldest extant translation into English of any biblical text. [emphasis added]

This is an example of uncovering new layers, wheels within wheels, depths and mysteries within. These thoughts will form the basis of my remarks this Sunday. And we shall discuss how doubting Thomas and Werner Heisenberg are related.


This manuscript reaches right back to earliest steps on the path of the psalms reaching out to readers across the world, including to us in South Woden. What paths did the psalms trace in finding their way into hundreds of other languages and cultures?

This is partly the inspiration for our choice this week of a Spanish setting of the psalm and refrain. From Psalms for all seasons No. 133D:

¡Miren qué buono, qué buono es!

Oh, look in wonder how good it is!

Our women lead us in this rhythmical song, and we’ll throw in a little Bruce Cockburn for good measure.

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