The Ricemarch Psalter: An Irish/Welsh Manuscript

TCD MS 50 fol 76r[1]

Today is the feast day of St David, the patron saint of Wales; this presents an opportunity to highlight one of the Library’s medieval Welsh manuscripts.

The Ricemarch Psalter and Martryology is a Latin text of Welsh origin written and decorated in the Irish style. It was written about 1079, probably in the scriptorium at Llanbadarn Fawr, Cardiganshire,Wales.

It belonged to Ricemarch or Rhyghfarch (1056-1099), sometimes called Rhyghfarch the wise, biographer of St David, and reputedly the most learned Welshman of his time. On folio 158v, in his own hand, he tells us that that the psalter was written for him by a scribe named Ithael, and that the large illuminated letters were the work of his brother John.

Ricemarch and John were both sons and pupils of Sulien (died 1082) twice bishop of St David’s and a major figure in the history of the Welsh Church. He spent 13 years training in the Irish schools, before returning to Wales to establish centres of learning at St David’s and Llanbadarn Fawr. At centres like these annals were recorded, charters and legal memoranda copied, saints lives written and learning passed on.

Unsurprisingly, given the Irish influence transmitted by Sulien, there are many similarities with Irish manuscripts of the same date, the scribes probably copying from an unidentified Irish exemplar. The martyrology contains a number of Irish saints, including Columba and Patrick.

Estelle Gittins