The Kievan Psalter gets its name from the place where it was written, as recorded at the end of the book by the scribe, Protodeacon Spiridon. He also set down the exact date when he finished copying the manuscript: 1397.
From notes made in the margins of the Kievan Psalter we know that between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries it was in Vilna in Lithuania. In the early nineteenth century its existence became known to scholars of the "Rumiantsev circle". Nikolai Rumiantsev himself attempted to acquire the remarkable manuscript, but without success. Over the course of the nineteenth century the Kievan Psalter changed hands several times, finally coming into the possession of S.D. Sheremetev, who in 1881 presented it to the Society of the Lovers of Ancient Literature. As early as 1890 the Society had managed to produce a photolithographic reproduction of the work. At that time, too, the manuscript became the subject of serious attention from philologists and art historians. It was keenly studied by Fiodor Buslaev, Nikodim Kondakov, Kh. Loparev and others.
The Kievan Psalter came into the Public Library together with the rest of the Society's collection in 1932 following a fire in the book repository which then occupied part of the former Sheremetev family mansion on the Fontanka.
The Psalms form one of the most expressive parts of the Bible and, in a separate cover as the Psalter, they were one of the favourite books of the Middle Ages. These ancient poems are the profoundly lyrical, highly emotional outpourings of a man who in a state of spiritual confusion seeks a hold in God and places his hopes in God's aid. It is understandable, then, what a powerful chord this book touched in the
mediaeval soul. Psalms were performed in church
almost every day, at every service. People knew them by
heart. The Psalter was used to teach children to read and
also in attempts to foretell the future. Its verses also accompanied the burial ritual.
The Psalter was a companion from
the cradle to the grave. Popular sayings and
expressions as well as the works of mediaeval authors
contain a mass of images and quotations from the Book
It is no surprise that manuscripts containing the Psalms were usually copied with zeal and quite often richly illustrated. The Kievan Psalter was written on superbly prepared white parchment in a large liturgical script. The 303 marvellous illustrations with their wide variety of subjects, the abundance of gold and bright colours, and masterly calligraphy make the Kievan Psalter one of the finest manuscript books to have survived from early Russia.