Today Canadians celebrate Victoria Day, the first of the summer long weekend holidays. What better way to spend the day than to page through a copy of Owen Jones’ The Psalms of David, “with permission dedicated to Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria,” also known as the Victoria Psalter. Jones (1809-1874) was an architect and ornamental designer who served as a superintendent of works at the Great Exhibition of 1851. His 1856 Grammar of Ornament had an influence on subsequent architects and designers in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1862 he published the Victoria Psalter, a chromolithographed illuminated psalter with colours limited to red, blue and gold. The text of the Psalms is that of Miles Coverdale‘s translation, as found in the Book of Common Prayer. As in the BCP, the 150 Psalms are divided into 30 groups so as to be said or sung over a 30-day period. Each day is further divided into two for morning and evening prayer. The Psalm at the beginning of each group is preceded by chant tones to enable them to be sung.
A few years ago I purchased a reprinted edition of this Psalter, published in 2002 by North Parade Publishing. For those who like illuminated manuscripts, this is worth purchasing, especially if you can find it, as I did, at a discounted price. However, there are flaws in this edition. The dedicatory pages are in reverse order. It suffers from the lack of a comprehensive introduction to Jones and the Psalter. The dust jacket has two brief paragraphs on the inner flaps, but one of these manages to confuse this Jones with another Owen Jones (surely the most common name in Wales?) by citing the latter’s birth and death years. It further has him visiting the Middle East 9 years after his own death! The other flap claims that Jones created his Psalter at 79, an age he again never lived to see. These evident defects may explain the discount. Still, if one ignores these, the book is a visual feast.
For those wishing to explore further the tradition of illuminated manuscripts, check out the considerably more ancient — and more visually stunning — Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels. A more recent and ongoing effort can be seen in the St. John’s Bible, begun a decade ago and scheduled for completion next year.
By the way, Anglicans above a certain age may already know this, but other Christians may be surprised to learn that Miles Coverdale’s 16th-century translation of the biblical Psalms uses the English word luck three times: in Psalms 45:5, 118:26 and 129:8.