From Manuscript to Print: the Evolution of the Medieval Book

Private Prayer
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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 prayer–the 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.

continue to Letterforms

the Sacred Word
Private Prayer
Leather and Chains
Medieval Music
How the Classics Survived
Manuscripts in the Age of Print
Evolution of the Book
Appetite for Destruction
Manuscript Facsimiles
Cornell's Medieval Books
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