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The Gorleston Psalter. A manuscript consisting of calendar, prayer and psalter from the collection of the british Library, London [1]. This beautifully and fascinatingly illuminated manuscript is dated 1310–1324 and is assumed to have been made  for a person associated with St Andrew’s, Gorleston, Suffolk; hence the name.

In total I found 16 pages with a snail in the marginalia. All snails have a similar shape: they have few whorls (2+), the last whorl is somewhat widening and has a white-rimmed apertural lip, which in some instances protrudes beyond the last whorl. The colour pattern is white encircling darker dots, which is imaginary. The animal seems very stylised, its head simply a proboscis, with a fold near the aperture, at the front with two large and two small tentacles (in some cases even a fifth has been drawn!).

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The first appearance of the snail is on f. 010r of the Psalter in the upper marginalia. The snail, a dextral specimen, is confronting a hybrid of a lion and a woman with a shield and sword. A variation on the ‘knight v. snail’ theme we have seen before.

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The next confrontation is on f. 013r where a man, with beard and tail, enriched with a red cap, points a lance towards the snail; this time it is a sinistral specimen.

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In the lower marginalia of f. 146r the snail (with three equally long tentacles) meets another knight, who is ready to grasp its sword for the attack.

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On f. 162v, also in the lower marginalia, we see a (dextral) snail (with five tentacles) in front of a kneeling knight, who seems to be adoring or begging for mercy. His shield is on his side, the sword has been pinned in the ground in front of the knight.

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On f. 179r, upper marginalia, the (dextral) snail is confronting a hybrid of a lion with a knight. The knight has his scimitar ready for attack, his lion-head shield in front of him. Very interestingly, above the snail is a text which reminded me of the French word ‘limaçons’; in the end it turned out to be an Anglo-Norman word for snail (‘limaceoun’) [2]. It remains a bit unsure whether this was used in those days for sea snails, land snails, or both.

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On f. 179v two hybrids are shown in opposite directions. One is a malacomorph with a dog protruding from the (dextral) shell. The other is half lion, half rabbit.

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In the lower marginalia of f. 180v, a woman has her ax ready for attacking the (sinistral) snail opposite her.

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Folio 184v shows, in the upper marginalia, a kneeling, bearded man, his left arm raised towards the (dextral) snail in front of him.

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In the lower marginalia of f. 185v a knight, his weapon relaxed on his shoulder, grabs the tentacles of the (dextral) snail sitting on the branch in front of him. One may expect a retraction…; perhaps the snail surrendered?

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The next occurrence, in the Canticles, is on f. 193v. In the lower marginalia the high-positioned snail is overlooking a knight ready for attack, shielding himself off while he has raised his sword.

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In the upper marginalia of f. 194v, the (sinistral) snail is confronting a bearded man. Is this the 5th Earl of Norfolk and Marshal of England? [1].

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On f. 200r, lower marginalia, an interesting scene is shown. He the snail seems to be caught by bird-like creature. The earliest case of snail predation I have seen so far!

In the Litany part the last snails are found.

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On f. 209v, upper marginalia, a (sinistral) snail meets a bird.

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Folio 210v shows the confrontation between the (dextral) snail and an ape, shielding himself off and with the sword ready to attack.

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The lower marginalia on f. 213v have a kneeling knight opposing a (dextral) snail; the knight is in the same position as on f. 162v except the total lack of armour in this case.

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Finally, on f. 214v, an ape with a bow has fired off an arrow towards the (sinistral) snail; it will surely hit and kill the snail off. The end of the story?

Note:
[1] BLL, Add.Ms. 49622,  i6+1 (added leaf), ii-iv8, v8-1(first lacking), vi-xxviii8, xxix6, 228 ff. http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_49622.
[2] Many thanks to Sarah Biggs (British Library) and Jenni Nuttall (@Stylisticienne on Twitter), for helping to solve this little puzzle. See http://bit.ly/1sLPrS7 for the relevant entry in the Anglo-Norman Dictionary.

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