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Medieval Studies and Research: Books of Hours - Resources for Research

This research guide is co-owned and co-authored by Dr. Danielle Mihram & Dr. Melissa L. Miller

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Research on the Books of Hours is extensive and, in addition to searches in our databases, an Advanced Search in our Online Catalog  yields a significant number of titles.

To find additional titles for this area of research in the USC Libraries' online catalog, select: Advanced Search. and restrict your search to Catalog  then Type:

  Books of hours and select the field: Subject  

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Books of Hours and the Transition to Print Culture - Illuminated manuscript books of hours, originally owned and often commissioned by nobility and royalty, contained a standard set of prayers to the Virgin Mary, gospel lessons, and a liturgical calendar. The Little Office (or horae, hours) of the Blessed Virgin Mary was originally appended to the Divine Office, (the complex Latin sequence of daily devotional prayers used by priests, monks and nuns), as well as to the Psalter, (the anthology of Latin translations of all 150 Hebrew psalms and other related prayers). Well before the beginning of the print era, and in response to the desires of the laity for guidance in private devotion the Hours of the Virgin  began to be copied and circulated separately, together with the Office of the Dead, the seven penitential psalms and often other prayer cycles.

Introduction to the books of Hours ( - The Book of Hours did not appear as an identifiable class of book until the thirteenth century. Before that time, Christians wishing to say a daily round of prayers had to seek guidance from some other type of book. / The Jews of the pre-Christian era had an authoritative source of devotional verse in the Book of Psalms, which, they believed, had been composed by King David. Christians adopted this book for their own use, and the “Psalter” " soon became their main devotional text as well. / Monks and nuns recited the Psalms according to guidelines laid out in monastic rules. (…). / Over the centuries, the Psalms were provided with a number of supplementary texts. It became customary, for example, to frame the Psalms with "antiphons" -- brief passages that helped to bring out the Christian significance of the old Jewish texts. The antiphons were joined by a variety of prayers, canticles, hymns, readings from the Bible, and dialogues. These disparate elements were arranged in a repetitive structure that varied in its details depending on the time of the day, the day of the week, a liturgical calendar was used to keep track of the days and the seasons, and rubrics were employed to indicate exactly what words were to be said when. The result was a new and more complex book known as the breviary. / In the Gothic period, and especially in the thirteenth century, there was a strong desire on the part of lay people to imitate the devotional practices of monks and nuns. The breviary was far too complex for use by lay people, however. A simpler book was therefore developed which, though resembling a breviary, was far less variable, and therefore easier to use. This new type of book was the "Book of Hours."

See also: Hypertext Book of Hours - "All images come from the manuscript collection of the Koniklijke Biblioteek in the Hague. The headings below follow the structure of a generic Book of Hours, while the texts themselves are drawn primarily from the Latin/English Primer of 1599."

Erik Drigsdahl's Book of Hours tutorials and research tools -  An invaluable resource. Drigsdahl's online tools and guides for identifying the liturgical use of Books of Hours has perhaps contributed more to the accurate localisation of manuscripts, and thus their earliest provenance, than any other resource. See therein: Books of Hours – Introduction and Tutorial .

Sections in a Book of Hours

Typical Structure of a Book of Hours In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Books of Hours were devotional works focusing on the Office of the Virgin, which ran from Matins to Compline in a fixed order. The Hours of the Virgin form the core of the Book of Hours with their relatively fixed text allowing for regional variations. Composed in accordance with the eight canonical Hours and consisting of excerpts from the psalms together with antiphons and responses, this prayer cycle is illustrated by a traditional program of scenes. Generally, there is one illumination for each Hour recalling the life of the Virgin and the childhood of Christ. The artistic rendering varies considerably.

Books of Hours - Studies

Folio Leaves

Facsimile - The Hours of Catherine de Cleves - Morgan Library and Museum

Demons and Devotion: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves Provided by the Morgan Library and Museum.  The Hours of Catherine of Cleves is the greatest Dutch illuminated manuscript in the world. Its 157 miniatures are by the gifted Master of Catherine of Cleves (active ca. 1435–60), who is named after this book. The Master of Catherine of Cleves is considered the finest and most original illuminator of the medieval northern Netherlands, and this manuscript is his masterpiece. This digital facsimile provides reproductions of all pages from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. The original one-volume prayer book had been taken apart in the nineteenth century; the leaves were shuffled and then rebound into two confusing volumes. This presentation offers the manuscript in its original, fifteenth-century sequence.

Books of Hours - Codices - Studies

Book of Hours - Facsimiles at USC

Facsimiles at USC: Les Très riches heures du duc de Berry