Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

06 May 2014

A Medieval Word Search - Secret Revealed!

For those who are still in suspense about the solution to our puzzle, A Medieval Word Search, the table in question comes from Additional MS 21114, the ‘Psalter of Lambert le Bègue’ (Lambert the Stammerer), a priest and reformer of Liège, believed to be founder of the Beguines, a charitable order of lay nuns.  The manuscript contains a drawing of Lambert le Bègue, and written above in French are two lines saying ‘This gentleman first founded the order of the Beguinage, and made the epistles of Saint Paul into our language’.

Add MS 21114 f. 7v c12408-02
Full page ink miniature of Lambert de Bègue holding a banner inscribed, 'Ge sui ichis Lambers, nel tenez pas a fable, Ki funda sain Cristophle ki enscri ceste table' (I am Lambert…who  wrote this table), from the ‘Psalter of Lambert le Bègue’, Liège, 1255-1265, Additional MS 21114, f. 7v

Now for the solution the riddle.  We cannot claim to have worked it out for ourselves but Paul Meyer, the great French manuscript scholar, studied a group of psalters from Northern France containing similar texts, and worked out the meaning of this table, which he also identified in Bibliothèque NationaleMS Latin 1077. His explanation in French is available online on the Gallica website here.

Add MS 21114 f. 7r c12404-03
A table with decorated frame for calculating the date of Easter in the years 1140 to 1672, from the ‘Psalter of Lambert le Bègue’, Add MS 21114, f. 7r

As we all know, one of the key obsessions in the medieval church was the calculation of Easter.  Any cleric worth his salt was bound to tackle this issue at some stage, and England’s own Bede wrote at length on the subject.  So, our table is a perpetual calculator for the date of Easter, used in the same way as we once used books of logarithms, for those who remember the pre-electronic calculator era (not quite as far back as the 13th century, but close).  It consists of 20 vertical columns, the first of which contains the dominical letters (i.e. the date on which Sunday falls for a given year, with ‘A’ representing the 1st of January).  The remaining 19 columns represent the lunar cycle of 19 years and the 28 horizontal lines represent the 28-year solar cycle.  Are you still with us?

The 35 two/three-letter syllables in the grid (di, in, ge, lu, etc.) each represent one of the possible dates of Easter Sunday, which can fall between 22 March and 25 April, yielding 10 possible dates in March and 25 possible dates in April.  Meyer worked out (and we’re not sure quite how he did this!) that that the first column of the calendar represented the dates of Easter for the years 1140-1167, so ‘di’ stands for 7 April (the date of Easter Sunday in 1140) and ‘in’ corresponds to 30 March (the date of Easter in 1141) etc.  The following columns continue this pattern up to 1672!  Then you would start all over again at the beginning for 1673. 

Now if you put the syllables in date order as follows (Meyer does this for us, thank goodness !)

March                                                                           April                                                                              

22            la                                                       1               rit                                                 13            cat

23            ber                                                    2               ar                                                 14            lu

24            tu                                                       3               te                                                 15            mi                             

25            ta                                                        4               ad                                                16            na

26            le                                                        5               pa                                                17            reg

27            qui                                                     6               ra                                                 18            ni

28            no                                                      7               di                                                  19            mag

29            bis                                                     8               si                                                  20            nus

30            in                                                       9               a                                                   21             ce

31            ge                                                       10             ci                                                  22            lo

                                                                             11             per                                               23            ru

                                                                             12             du                                                24            fac

                                                                                                                                                    25            tor


If you put this together, and add in some abbreviated ‘m’s, you get:   La[m]bertu[m], tale[m] qui nobis ingerit artem / Ad paradisiaci perducat lumina regni / Magnus celoru[m] factor

Or, in English:  The great creator of the heavens leads Lambert, the one who brings us knowledge, to the light of the kingdom of paradise.

So, if Lambert himself made up this puzzle, he must have had a rather high opinion of himself and wanted to assure his future reputation among those in the know.

And we have to add that those 19th-century medieval scholars continue to astound with the breadth of their knowledge and their talent and dedication in solving these mysteries for us.  Meyer even found out that there were a couple of mistakes in the table in the British Library manuscript and corrected them.  Félicitations, Monsieur Paul Meyer!

Now after all that hard work, you, our readers deserve a reward. Here are some great images and interesting marginalia from this manuscript, so enjoy !

Add MS 21114 f. 34r c12404-08
Text page with marginal images including a bird stealing a crown, from the ‘Psalter of Lambert le Bègue’, Additional MS 21114, f. 34r

Add MS 21114 f. 47r c12405-01
Historiated initial 'D'(ixit) of Christ tempted by the devil with the words, 'Non in solo pane..' at the beginning of Psalm 13 from the ‘Psalter of Lambert le Bègue’, Additional MS 21114, f. 47r

Add MS 21114 f. 68v c12406-06
Historiated initial 'E'(xultate) at the beginning of Psalm 80 with Saint Martin holding a sword, giving his cloak to a beggar, saying 'Hac me veste contexit..' and marginal image of a man’s head in profile from the ‘Psalter of Lambert le Bègue’, Additional MS 21114, f.68v

- Chantry Westwell


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