TextmanuscriptTextmanuscripts - Les Enluminures

les Enluminures

Psalter with antiphons set to music (Dominican use)

In Latin, decorated manuscript on parchment with musical notation
Switzerland (Kloster Töss?), c. 1455-1461

TM 1065

i (paper) + 156 + i (paper) folios on parchment, modern foliation in pencil, 1-156, lacking 18 leaves (collation i6 [-3, -4, lacking two leaves after f. 2, with loss of text] ii8 [-1, -2, lacking two leaves after f. 4, with loss of text] iii-iv8 v8 [-6, lacking one leaf after f. 31, with loss of text] vi-vii8 viii6 ix14 [-5, -10, lacking one leaf after f. 59 and one leaf after f. 63, with loss of text] x8 [-6, lacking one leaf after f. 72] xi12 xii8 xiii12 xiv8 xv12 xvi8 xvii12 xviii8 xix12[-2, -4, -5, -6, -7, -8, -9, 10, lacking one leaf after f. 155 and nine leaves after f. 156, with loss of text]), no catchwords or signatures, ruled in gray ink (justification 101 x 65 mm.), written in dark brown ink in gothic bookhand (textualis) in a single column on 18 lines, music in square notation on four-line red staves, 6 staves per page, rastrum 10 mm., rubrics mostly in red, but also in blue (e.g. ff. 81, 91v), capitals touched in red, 1-line verse initials alternating in red and blue, cadel initials in black with red decoration, 2-line initials mostly in red, but also a few in blue, one 6-line puzzle initial in red and blue with penwork decoration in red and green (f. 47), two 4- to 5-line foliage initials in blue with penwork in red and green (ff. 89, 119), one 4-line initial in red with penwork in red and green (f. 104), water damage and stains on the first four leaves, ink considerably faded on a number of pages, but text still mostly legible, outer margin of f. 83 partly lacking with some loss of text, a few stains and signs of wear, otherwise in very good condition. Bound in the nineteenth century in limp vellum over pasteboards, two bands of olive morocco on the spine for the title in gilt “PSALTERIVM”, “MS.”, in very good condition. Dimensions 138 x 98 mm. 

A small handheld Psalter with musical notation and elaborate cadel initials that introduce the antiphons preceding the psalms. Certainly for Dominican use, it was likely made by and for Dominican nuns, possibly at the convent of Töss in Switzerland. The convent was founded in the thirteenth century and is famous for the sister-book (Schwesternbuch) by Elsbeth Stagel, chronicling the spiritual lives of the nuns who lived there.  This is an attractive Psalter, with an unusually interesting medieval and modern provenance.


1. The manuscript was made between 1455 and 1461 for Dominican use, possibly at the convent of Dominican nuns of Töss in northern Switzerland, as suggested by liturgical evidence, the type of musical notation, and the style of the initials.  Dominican feasts in the calendar include the feast (at the highest grading in red and marked as totum duplex, 7 March), the octave (memoria, 14 March) and the translation (in red, totum duplex, 28 January) of the Dominican friar, St. Thomas Aquinas; as well as (all in red and as totum duplex) St. Peter Martyr, “ordinis nostri (27 Apr) and St. Vincent Ferrer (4 Apr, normally 5 Apr), the latter who was canonized in 1455 and provides the terminus post quem for the making of our manuscript. The inclusion in a different hand of the feast of the Dominican St. Catherine of Siena, canonized in 1461, seems to provide the terminus ante quem.

Numerous Germanic saints in the calendar suggest localizing the origin of this book in either Germany, Switzerland or Austria: St. Walburga, venerated especially in southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria (25 February), the feast (3 March) and the translation (9 September) of St. Cunigunde of Luxembourg, Queen of Germany and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, whose main shrine is at the Bamberg Cathedral, St. Florian, patron saint of Linz, Austria (4 March; normally 4 May), St. Theodora, the Roman virgin martyr venerated on April 1 as in our book in Mainz and Esztergom (Hungary), St. Adalbert of Prague (24 April; normally 23 April), St. Regina of Autun, venerated especially in Burgundy and across the border in Germany and Switzerland (7 September), and St. Wenceslaus, duke of Bohemia (28 September). 

This can be narrowed down.  The music is written in square notation, and not the Hufnagel notation popular in Germany, evidence that our manuscript was most likely copied further south, perhaps in Switzerland bordering Italy and France.  

Finally, the rare feast of St. Serapion of Algiers on February 28 is likely an important clue in localizing our manuscript to Switzerland. This martyr was usually celebrated on November 14; however, the French scholar Denis Muzerelle has identified this feast on February 28 as in our manuscript in only one manuscript, an obituary from Granges in the diocese of Sion in Switzerland.  We would therefore like to raise the possibility that our manuscript was made for the Töss Convent for Dominican nuns near Zurich in northern Switzerland. Liturgical evidence supports this possibility.  Namely, the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (or of Thuringia, d. 1231), the great-aunt of the blessed Elizabeth of Hungary (d. 1338), who was a nun at Töss, is graded as semi duplex in the calendar of our manuscript (19 November). In Dominican calendars this feast was usually ranked lower, iii lectiones, meaning it had only three lessons at Matins, whereas at the house where this Psalter was used the feast had nine lessons at Matins (see e.g. the Dominican calendar in Online Resources compiled from Breviaries and Missals for use in Venice, Milan, Paris and Basel). Finally, the decoration of the initials suggests that our manuscript was made in-house by nuns.     

2. In Montreux, Switzerland on November 20,1858, when the ten-line note on the front flyleaf was written in brown ink. The note identifies the Dominican use of the manuscript and the elements for its dating by saints Vincent Ferrer and Catherine of Siena: “Le Calendrier fut écrit par un moine de l’ordre de St. Dominic ....” 

3. The manuscript was thereafter acquired by the Swiss scientist, Adolph von Morlot (1820-1867), who inscribed in brown ink “a. Morlot de Berne / Décembre 1860.” on the front pasteboard and “a. Morlot 1860.” in the inner margin of f. 66.  Adolph von Morlot (Karl Adolf von Morlot, Adolphe Morlot) was a well-known geologist and archeologist from Bern, who studied in Bern, Freiberg and Paris, followed by five years of scientific work in Vienna, where he famously performed the first synthesis of the mineral dolomite, before returning to Switzerland where he became professor geology and mineralogy at the University of Lausanne in 1851 (see Online resources). His second scientific career in archeology started around the time he acquired this book in Bern in 1860. In 1865-1867 von Morlot worked as custodian of the archaeological collection of the city of Bern, now the Bernisches Historisches Museum. Especially interesting in the light of his owning our book is that he is known to have always been greatly interested in music, and in his last years he occupied himself with investigating and re-creating ancient musical instruments. He was also researching the archaeology of northern Germany.


ff. 1-4v, Calendar, lacking May, June, July and August; contents discussed above, Provenance;

ff. 5-156v, Psalter with antiphons set in music, beginning imperfectly in Ps. 6:7, “//meum rigabo. Turbatus est a furore oculus meus ...,” and continuing through the psalms in their numerical order until Ps. 144:6, ending imperfectly “... Magnificentiam gloriae sanctitatis tuae loquentur, et mirabilia tua narrabunt. Et vir//”;

The decorated initials within the Psalter mark major divisions of the psalms according to the common 8-fold division, singling out the first psalm at Matins for each day of the week and the first psalm at Sunday Vespers. Half of the decorated initials survive in our manuscript: the initials beginning psalms 38 (f. 47), 80 (f. 89), 97 (f. 104) and 109 (f. 119), that is, the first psalms at Matins on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, and the first psalm at Sunday Vespers. The book is now lacking the leaves with decorated initials for psalms 1, 26, 52 and 68. This organization of the psalms into the daily liturgy of the hours by the Dominicans, and all mendicant orders, secular clerks and canons, differs from the way psalms were chanted within monastic orders, for whom the equivalent eight-fold division was psalms 20, 32, 45, 59, 73, 85, 101 and 109 (Harper, 1991, pp. 243-250; Morard 2018, Online resources).

The four 4-6-line initials marking the major psalms in our manuscript are decorated with penwork in red and green. The forms are simple and are very likely the work of nuns carried out in-house. Similar examples of decoration by nuns can be found for instance in a contemporary manuscript made at the Katarinenkloster in Nuremberg in Germany of the famous “Tösser Schwesternbuch” (Nuremberg, Stadtbibl., Cod. Cent. V. 10a; Schneider, 1965, pp. 67-69 and Abb. 11-12).  This text by the fourteenth-century prioress of Töss, Elsbeth Stagel, details the lives of thirty-nine nuns at Töss, including the life of blessed Elizabeth of Hungary, who lived at the monastery at the same time with Stagel.

The convent at Töss, now in the Swiss city of Winterthur near Zurich, was founded in 1233, and established as a convent for Dominican nuns in 1235.  By the fourteenth century there were about one hundred nuns lived at the convent, including Elizabeth of Hungary (1292-1338), princess of Hungary, and Elsbeth Stagel (c.1300-c.1360), certainly the convent’s two most famous nuns.  The convent was secularized in 1525.

The ownership of the manuscript in the nineteenth century by Adolph von Morlot is fascinating. Before him, the book was in nearby Montreux, where it belonged to a private collector who thought in error that it was made in Toulouse, because of the inclusion in the calendar of the feast of the translation of St. Thomas of Aquinas, as he wrote on the front flyleaf: “Le Calendrier fut écrit ... probablement à Thoulouse, car la Translatio de St. Thomas Aquin. ne fut guère célébrée que là.” However, although the relics of the Italian Dominican friar were placed in 1369 in the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse, the feast of the translation was not limited to Toulouse. Given the specialist knowledge and professional responsibilities that von Morlot had in Swiss history and archeology, he probably recognized the manuscript as local when he acquired it.

The psalms were central to religious practice during the Middle Ages.  Psalters copied throughout the period for private devotion, for both lay people and clerics, include some of the most celebrated illuminated manuscripts known today. The Psalter described here was not for private devotional use but is rather an example of a volume copied for use in the Choir during the Divine Office, complete with musical notation.  Liturgists call books such as this one Ferial Psalters or Choir Psalters. Ferial Psalters include the psalms together with the other texts chanted daily during the Office, including antiphons (in this manuscript, with musical notation), thus providing a complete repertoire of the ordinary texts for the Office.


Däniker-Gysin, M. C. Geschichte des Dominikanerinnenklosters Töss, 1957

Dejung, Emanuel, Richard Zürcher, and Hans Hoffmann. Die Stadt Winterthur und die Stadt Zurich, Die Kunstdenkmäler der Kantons Zürich 6, Die Kunstdenkmäler der Schweiz, Basel, 1952, pp. 319-331https://ekds.ch/library/book:027

Geh, H.-P. and G. Römer. Mittelalterliche Andachtsbücher: Psalterien, Stundenbücher, Gebetbücher: Zeugnisse europäischer Frömmigkeit, Karlsruhe, 1992.

Grotefend, H. Zeitrechnung des deutschen Mittelalters und der Neuzeit, Aalen, 1984.

Harper, J. The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century: A Historical Introduction and Guide for Students and Musicians, Oxford, 1991.

Hughes, Andrew. Medieval Manuscripts for Mass and Office. A Guide to their Organization and Terminology, Toronto, 1982.

Leroquais, V.  Les Psautiers manuscrits latins des bibliothèques publiques de France, 3 vols, Mâcon, 1940-1.

Schneider, Karin. Die deutschen mittelalterlichen Handschriften, Die Handschriften der Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg I, Wiesbaden 1965, S. 67-69 und Abb. 11-12.

Van Deusen, N., ed. The Place of the Psalms in the Intellectual Culture of the Middle Ages, Albany, 1999.

Online Resources

Adolph von Morlot (Wikipedia) 


Calendoscope database by Denis Muzerelle, IRHT-CNRS, Paris

M. Morard, “Le Psautier latin au Moyen-Âge,” Sacra Pagina, 15/03/2018 https://big.hypotheses.org/1031

Calendrier Dominicain

Ressources pour l’analyse et la description des manuscrits liturgiques notés

Töss (Convent) in Dictionnaire historique de la Suisse

Kloster Töss (Wikipedia) https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kloster_T%C3%B6ss

TM 1065