Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Question from Nicole - Book of Hours

What exactly is a Book of Hours? Lots of books make references to them, but I can't ever remember reading what they were exactly. Are they like today's Christian Devotional books? Thanks for any answers!


Sara said...

I'm pretty sure the Book of Hours is a type of prayer/devotional book.

PhD Historian said...

In the ancient Roman Catholic tradition, there are prayers and religious services appropriate to various times of day, and the day is divided into prayer cycles. In proper terms, the set of prayers is known as the Divine Offices, and the offices are divided into "canonical hours." The hours (from the Latin horae, meaning "times") were known by names associated with the time of day at which the prayers were offered: Matins (morning), Lauds ("praises"), Terce (the third hour), Sext (sixth hour), None (ninth hour), Vespers (evening), and Compline (night).

Books of hours, which were handwritten and usually lavishly illustrated ("illuminated"), followed official church liturgies, known as Usages, prescribed for the various offices of the day. In medieval England, the Sarum Usage was predominant. Books of hours often also contained prayers specific to the various religious holidays, such as the Feast of the Virgin, Advent, Lent, etc.

Books of hours were produced in several sizes, but those for personal use were often fairly small in height and width, sometimes not even as big as a modern paperback book. They were often quite thick, however, largely because the pages were made from vellum (animal skin). They had costly covers made from expensive fabrics with embroidery and occasionally jewels, and small latches similar to locks on modern girls' diaries in order to protect them and to keep them closed when not in use. They were also often attached by a small metal ring to a cord or belt so that they could be worn at the waist. One can frequently see them suspended from the waists of women in portraits from the pre-Reformation era. As religion in England moved from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism in the sixteenth century, Books of Hours ceased to be used but were still collected for their value as works of art.

For an example of a surviving small Book of Hours, see http://www.thisisdorset.net/display.var.1246952.0.rare_books_auction_raises_a_million.php

Nicole said...

Thanks for your answer! It was very informative and actually answered something else I had been wondering about (what they meant when they said "illuminated"). I was really intrigued by the Book of Hours that Anne Boleyn once owned. I read they were at Hever castle. Hopefully someday I'll be able to go see them for myself!