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From the last half of the thirteenth century the Book of Hours became popular as a personal prayer book for men and women. A book of hours contains a selection of prayers, psalms, hymns and lessons, a series of devotions to be made during the eight canonical hours of the day, from lauds through to matins, from this content came the name ‘Book of Hours’. Although each book was unique, they usually contained a number of standard elements in a specific pattern commencing with a calendar, a gospel sequence, the Hours of the Virgin Mary, the Hours of the Cross, Penitential psalms, the Office of the Dead and a series of prayers to the Saints.
The Library holds a small collection of books of hours which are gradually being digitised. As these are fragile objects the digitisation requires careful planning. It has required the construction of a special cradle by our Conservation staff with each page individually photographed by our amazing photography team.
Many books of hours were enhanced with beautiful miniatures, decorated initials and floral borders, often burnished with gold to 'illuminate' the illustration. Most were produced on parchment sheets made from the skins of animals, usually sheep or goats. They were usually handwritten although examples of highly decorated printed books of hours exist from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century.
The latest book of hours to be digitised from our collections is a fine example from Northern France, produced in the late fifteenth century. It would have been a standard production from a workshop rather than a lavish volume produced for a private commission. The text is in Latin with the calendar in French. Usually the calendar in a book of hours reflects the location and interests of the person who has commissioned the volume, favouring local holidays and saints days. The calendar of events and litany in this book of hours refers to saints favoured throughout the Burgundian area of north-eastern and Central France. The gospel sequence in this book of hours features an image of St John of Patmos. We know this as the figure has an eagle at his side. The eagle is the traditional symbol for John, the evangelist.
This volume features 14 large miniatures, framed by pink marble columns or brown bands. The borders are decorated with blue and gold acanthus leaves with red, blue and green foliage. These decorative borders also contain exotic details of birds, insects and grotesques. A grotesque is a hybrid and comic figure, often combining elements from various human and animal forms.
This book of hours was acquired by the Library in 1907 as part of the David Scott Mitchell bequest and has been rebound in the nineteenth century in red morocco.
The 14 miniatures are featured below or you can scroll through the entire volume online.
Maggie Patton, Research & Discovery