The Christian Church fostered private devotion as well as communal prayer.
Priests, monks, and nuns recited the Divine Office using breviaries, and
laypersons recited shorter prayers using books of hours. The latter referred
to the eight canonical hours, that is, the eight times each day when Christians
were supposed to pause for prayer: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext,
None, Vespers, and Compline. The most popular sequence, in honor of Mary
the Mother of God, was known as the Hours of the Virgin. It was often
accompanied in prayerbooks by two other canonical sequences of prayerthe
Hours of the Cross and the Hours of the Holy Spirit.
Books of hours constituted the dominant form of private
prayer for laypersons from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Thus these
little books were in high demand for 300 years, and were illustrated to
satisfy buyers, who included the bourgeois as well as the nobility. Illuminations
gave readers visual images to help them focus on the theme of a prayer,
and they also served as bookmarks. Most books of hours were written in
Latin, although in the Netherlands during the 15th and 16th centuries
they were written in the Dutch vernacular.
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