Monastic & Childhood Education


Historiated initial with surviving gold leaf details

Psalters played a prominent role in the education of children and those aiming to enter into religious vocations during the Middle Ages. As much of daily life revolved around religion during this period, Medieval Christians considered the psalter the ideal text for educating children. The psalters would thus serve the dual purpose of teaching children Latin and introducing them to the psalms. The psalms were easier to contemplate and discuss than the Bible as a whole as they were self-contained stories; this made them particularly useful as teaching aids. These texts were especially popular in teaching children of nobility, as many wealthy families were able to commission their own richly illuminated psalters.
The illuminated scenes and images portrayed within historiated initials that were integral parts of many psalters were also used to teach religious morals to children. The image of St. Michael slaying the dragon found within the University's psalter is an example of an illustration that might have been utilized in such a manner. This image was an allegory of good defeating evil, or God defeating the Devil. St. Michael may have served as a heroic figure to medieval children, making them want to emulate his virtues.

A psalm written out on f. 83v by two different individuals

Beyond teaching children, psalters were used in educating those who aspired to enter a religious vocation, such as the priesthood. Those hoping to enter a monastery would be tasked with memorizing the psalms, as they were a crucial part of the Divine Office, which figures of religious authority would be required to know. After memorizing the passages, the individual would proceed to learn Latin as a language. Many psalters contain notes in the margins, as well as annotations and glosses that were added by owners and students who used the text for educational purposes. The psalter included in our exhibit was very likely used to educate children, as a faded alphabet can be found on the bottom of f. 14. There is also evidence of someone attempting to write out a psalm on f. 83v. There are two different styles of writing below the original text: the first is large and contains several spelling and grammatical errors, making it likely that the author was a student of Latin. The second is a more expert hand that continues the psalm in neater writing until the end of the page.

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