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Medieval Studies and Research: Antiphonaries, Breviaries, & Psalters: Connections to Books of Hours & other Liturgical Texts

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


This page of our Research Guide will provide an overview of Antiphonaries, Breviaries, and Psalters, what they are, and how they interact and connect with many liturgical texts and their traditions; particularly with Books of Hours.

First, you will find a side-by-side comparison of miniatures, and their iconography, for the Infancy cycle and the Passion Cycle. If you select the gold padlock icon Padlock Icon Png #330967 - Free Icons Library next to any of the miniature images you'll be taken to the full digital surrogate of the Book of Hours the image is from via its host library.

If you click on an image of a miniature you should be able to zoom in for a closer look.

Be sure to scroll down - because next, you will find several tables mapping out the role of Antiphonaries, Breviaries, and Psalters within liturgical texts and their religious connections and traditions, particularly with Books of Hours. The tables include Liturgical Texts, The Divine Office, and The Hours of the Virgin (core text for Books of Hours). After the tables are the Sequences of the Gospels & their iconography, and Components of a Book of Hours with brief explanations for each component.

Keep scrolling down - because there's more for you to see, last on this page is a glossary of terms with brief explanations highlighting the connections of Antiphonaries, Breviaries, and Psalters throughout liturgical texts and traditions.


Book of Hours - Infancy Cycle Images

The images of miniatures used for the Infancy Cycle in this Research Guide were taken by Melissa Miller and are from the USC Libraries, Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Northern France and/or Bruges Call # Z105.5 1460 .C378.


You will find the full USC Libraries, Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Northern France and/or Bruges Call # Z105.5 1460 .C378 digital surrogate at the following link:


USC Digital Library



PRIEST (music and text)

CHOIR (music only)




OFFICE (hours)






MATINS (also called Vigils, Nocturns or the Night Office)

During the night, often Midnight, 12:00 a.m.

LAUDS (also called Dawn Prayer)

At dawn, or 3:00 a.m.

PRIME (also called Early Morning Prayer)

First Hour – approx. 7:00 a.m.

TERCE (also called Mid-Morning Prayer)

Third Hour – approx. 9:00 a.m.

SEXT (also called Midday Prayer)

Sixth Hour – approx. 12:00 p.m.

NONE (also called Mid-Afternoon Prayer)

Ninth Hour – approx. 3:00 p.m.

VESPERS (also called Evening Prayer)

“At the lighting of the lamps”–approx. 6:00 p.m.

COMPLINE (also called Night Prayer)

Before going to bed – approx. 9:00 p.m.


Victor Leroquais categorizes the components of a Book of Hours based on the examination of many examples.

  • Calendar
    • The first part of a book of hours is a perpetual calendar (a calendar that can be used year after year). Major feast days are identified by a different color of ink, sometimes gold, but more often red (hence the phrase “red-letter days”). Local saints days are frequently included in calendars and are a good indication of where the book of hours was intended to be used. The calendar could also be used to record the births and deaths of family members of the owners. Other columns in the calendar include Roman calendrical dates (Nones, Kalends, Ides), and Golden Numbers (i-ix, linked to the cycles of the moon) and Dominical Letters (a-g) used to determine the very important date of Easter, which is a movable feast. Calendars are often illustrated by signs of the zodiac and traditional labors of the month.

  • Sequences of the Gospels
    • Four gospel readings from the masses of four of the Church’s major feasts outline Christ’s life on earth and his role as humankind’s savior.

  • Hours of the Virgin
    • Each hour is composed of various antiphons and responses, psalms, hymns, canticles and prayers addressed to the Virgin Mary and appealing for her intercession.

  • Hours of the Cross
    • Do not include Lauds, are shorter than the Hours of the Virgin and are addressed to the Cross. They are often prefaced by an image of the Crucifixion.
  • Hours of the Holy Spirit
    • Do not include Lauds. They are often illustrated with an image of Pentecost.

  • "Obsecro te" prayer
    • Addressed to the Virgin Mary, pleading for their intercession with Christ. The speaker refers to themselves in a gendered noun and this can be an additional indication of the commissioner of the book of hours.

  • "O intemerata" prayer
    • Addressed to the Virgin Mary and to St. John the Evangelist, pleading for their intercession with Christ. The speaker refers to themselves in a gendered noun and this can be an additional indication of the commissioner of the book of hours.

  • Penitential Psalms
    • 7 penitential psalms - psalms 6: Domine ne in furore, 31: Beati quorum, 37: Domine ne in furore, 50: Misere mei Deus, 101: Domine exaudi, 129: De profundis and 142: Domine exaudi). These psalms are often introduced with images that reflect their role as petitions to Christ in his role at the Last Judgment or their traditionally ascribed authorship to David.
  • Litany
    • List of saints with each name followed by the invocation “Ora pro nobis.” Pray for us. The order again reflects the heavenly hierarchy as in the Suffrages. Litanies rarely receive elaborate illustration.

  • Office of the Dead
    • The Office of the Dead is recited before the Requiem or funeral Mass. It consists of 3 hours: Vespers, Matins (including 3 Nocturns) and Lauds. Illustrations to the Office provide valuable insights into medieval attitudes towards death, transience and mortality. Typical subjects include the burial of the dead, and funeral processions.

  • Suffrages of the Saints
    • Addressed to saints as models of Christian behavior and include first an antiphon, a versicle and a response.


Book of Hours - Passion Cycle Images

The images of miniatures used for the Passion Cycle in this Research Guide are from various Libraries and Institutions and are not owned by USC Libraries.

If you select the gold padlock icon Padlock Icon Png #330967 - Free Icons Library next to any of the miniature images you'll be taken to the full digital surrogate of the Book of Hours the image is from via its host library (or follow the links below).

Walters Art Museum Books of Hours, Masters of the Gold Scrolls:

Peirpont Morgan Library, Da Costa Hours:

Peirpont Morgan Library, Hours of Catherine of Cleves:

THE HOURS OF THE VIRGIN (core text of a Book of Hours)





MATINS (also called Vigils, Nocturns or the Night Office)



LAUDS (also called Dawn Prayer)



PRIME (also called Early Morning Prayer)



TERCE (also called Mid-Morning Prayer)



SEXT (also called Midday Prayer)



NONE (also called Mid-Afternoon Prayer)



VESPERS (also called Evening Prayer)



COMPLINE (also called Night Prayer)



The Infancy Cycle depicts Mary's role in the conception, birth, and childhood of Christ, emphasizing the Virgin's purity, piety, and humility. The Virgin was a model for the reader to contemplate and emulate.

The Passion Cycle depicts Christ's death and rebirth, allowing users to meditate on the Biblical events that culminate in the Crucifixion and Resurrection and the forgiveness of human sins.


The Four Evangelists are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the authors of the four canonical gospel accounts in the New Testament.

JOHN 1:1-14 = (Christmas) The mystery of the Incarnation, the doctrine that God became flesh, that God assumed a human nature and became a man in the form of Jesus Christ. The symbol for John is an eagle.

LUKE 1:26-38 = (Annunciation) The Annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to Mary to announce that the Savior would be born to her. The symbol for Luke is an ox, bull, or calf.

MATTHEW 2:1-12 = (Epiphany) Christ's Nativity, the adoration of the Magi. The symbol for Matthew is an angel or a man.

MARK 16:14-20 = (Ascension) Christ's final appearance to the disciples after the Resurrection and his bodily Ascension into Heaven. The symbol for Mark is a lion.


In this translation, the first in English of the complete text, William Granger Ryan captures the immediacy of this rich work, which offers an important guide for readers interested in medieval art and literature and, more generally, in popular religious culture.  

Arranged according to the order of saints' feast days, these fascinating stories are now combined into one volume. This edition also features an introduction by Eamon Duffy contextualizing the work.


ANTIPHONAL = A book containing the sung portions of the Divine Office, also called antiphoner or antiphonary. Antiphonals are often large in format so that they could be used by a choir, and include decorated and historiated initials depicting saints and key events of the liturgical year. Hymns are usually contained in a separate volume. The contents of the antiphonal are generally arranged in accordance with the Temporale, Sanctorale, and Common of Saints in liturgical order.

BREVIARY = A Christian Service Book containing the texts necessary for the celebration of the Divine Office. A breviary is often adorned with decorated and historiated initials, and more luxurious copies may contain Miniatures depicting biblical scenes or the performance of the office. Beginning in the 11th century, the various volumes used in the Divine Office (Psalter, Antiphonal, Collectar, Martyrology, etc.) were combined to form the breviary, which was initially used only by monks. The breviary's contents are divided into Temporale, Sanctorale, and Common of Saints and vary in detail in accordance with the rite of the religious order and use.

CHOIR BOOK = A service book containing the parts of the Mass or the Divine Office (very rarely both) sung by the choir.

COMMON OF SAINTS = Prayers or chants for saints who did not have their own individual services, arranged by categories (martyrs, virgins, etc.).

DIVINE OFFICE = Christian daily devotions celebrated by members of religious orders and the clergy. By the 6th century the cycle of eight canonical hours for the celebration of the Divine Office had been fixed, with times varying depending on the time of year and therefore, the rising and setting of the sun.

GRADUAL = The sung response with verse to the Epistle reading that constitutes one part of the Mass. The name derives from the practice of singing the gradual on the steps of the raised pulpit. The term is used for the principal Choir Book used in the Mass. Arranged according to the liturgical year (Temporale, Sanctorale, and Common of Saints), a gradual contains: graduals, introits, tracts, alleluias, offertories, and communions. The introits - first sung elements of the Mass - were often introduced by historiated initials. The initial for Ad te levavi (Latin, I lift), the introit for the first Sunday in Advent, was usually the most elaborate.

MISSAL = A Christian Service Book containing the texts necessary for the celebration of the Mass, including chants, prayers, and readings, together with ceremonial directions. The prayers and other texts recited by the priest were originally contained in the Sacramentary, which was used together with the Gradual, the Gospel Lectionary, and the Epistolary for the celebration of high or solemn Mass. The Missal was developed from the Sacramentary in the 10th and 11th centuries and came to replace the Sacramentary by the 13th century. It became very popular by the custom of saying low masses, which were performed by the celebrant alone. Principal fields for decoration in the Missal are the Canon Page and the Vere dignum monogram. Vere dignum monograms illustrations accompany the Incipit Page.

PSALTER = The biblical book of Psalms and a type of Christian devotional book with Psalms as the main text. Ancillary texts found in medieval psalters include a Calendar, Old and New Testament canticles, a Litany of Saints, and prayers. Psalters designed for use in the celebration of the Divine Office may contain other important texts, such as antiphons to the Psalms, often with music notation, and the Hours of the Virgin. The psalter was the principal book for Christians personal devotion before the Book of Hours emerged in the 13th century. In the Roman Liturgy of the Middle Ages, all 150 Psalms were recited each week in the Divine Office, the majority at matins and vespers. In nonmonastic use, the cycle began at matins on Sunday with Psalm 1 and continued at matins on the following days: Psalm 26 was the first recited on Monday; Psalm 38 the first on Tuesday; Psalm 52 the first on Wednesday; Psalm 68 the first on Thursday; Psalm 80 the first on Friday; Psalm 97 the first on Saturday. The cycle for vespers began on Sunday with Psalm 109 and continued throughout the week with the remaining Psalms. You might find other divisions of the Psalms such as the Irish division of the three fifties (Psalms 1, 51, 100). These divisions were often given prominence within the decorative program of medieval manuscript psalters. Depictions of King David, believed to be the author of many of the Psalms, often introduce the psalter - look for the historiated initials to Psalm 1 and prefatory cycles were often included.

TEMPORALE = The Proper of Time, provided material for services celebrated during the basic church year. It begins with the first Sunday of Advent (four weeks before Christmas) and is organized around the major event of Christ’s life: Advent; Christmas Day (December 25); Circumcision (January 1); Epiphany (January 6); Presentation in the Temple (February 2); Lent; Palm Sunday; Holy Week and Easter Sunday (The climax of the Christian year) - Easter, a movable feast based on the lunar calendar, is celebrated after the first full moon of spring; Ascension; Pentecost.

SANCTORALE = The Proper of Saints, provided texts for the celebrations of saints’ days throughout the year. It usually begins with the Feast of Saint Andrew (November 30) and ends in the next calendar year with the Feast of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (November 25). The sanctorale mirrors the temporale in that it runs roughly from Advent to Advent, and the first Sunday in Advent, when the temporale begins, is always the Sunday closest to Saint Andrew’s Day. The prayers and musical texts in the santorale name the saints in whose honor they were written and usually allude to notable incidents in the saints; vitae (life stories). It is usually supplemented by a shorter section known as the commune sanctorum (Common of Saints), texts that can be used to celebrate the feast of saints who had no liturgical texts or hymns written in their honor. The commune sanctorum was arranged into subsections for the different ranks of saints (apostle, martyr, confessor, virgin) and it offered texts for commemorating groups of saints.


Brown, Michelle (Michelle P.), Elizabeth C. Teviotdale, and Nancy Turner. Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts : a Guide to Technical Terms Revised edition. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018.

Clemens, Raymond, and Timothy. Graham. Introduction to Manuscript Studies Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007.

Conway, Melissa. "Renaissance and Medieval Manuscripts." Lecture, California Rare Book School, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, CA., August 17-21, 2020.