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Book of Hours

What is a Book of Hours?

A Book of Hours is a personal prayer book containing a calendar and prayers intended for the layperson that was extremely popular from the mid 13th to 16th centuries (Wieck 9).  These books were a simplification of the monastic devotional practices of the time (Glenn Gunhouse).  These prayers were to be said at eight specific hours during the day, Matins (midnight or day break), Lauds (daybreak, or the same time as Matins), Prime (6am), Terce (9am), Sext (noon), None (3pm), Vespers (the early evening), Compline (when going to bed) (Wieck 51).  Although there are a total of eight hours, two of them, Matins and Lauds were often said together.

Calendar and the Gospel of John Psalm 94 Psalm 50
A page of the Calendar and the Gospel of John Psalm 94 of the Hours of the Virgin End of Psalm 50 of the Office of the Dead

What is in a Book of Hours?

The exact content of books of hours varies from one book to another (Diringer 402).  Although there seems to be some disagreement about what was normally included in the book, the majority of sources agree that at least the Calendar, and the Hours of the Virgin were always included. The “calendar” consists of feast days of martyred saints and important events of the Holy Family (Wieck 26).  The prayers within The Hours of the Virgin, created by Benedict of Aniane, are the oldest section and the most important part of the Book of Hours (750-821AD) (Wieck 51).  The other sections that are generally recognized as regular sections of the Book of Hours are: the Gospel Lessons (four short Gospel readings which were normally placed before the Hours of the Virgin) two additional prayers to the Virgin (also before the Hours of the Virgin) the succinct Hours of the Cross, the Hours of the Holy Spirit (both were found after the Hours of the Virgin and occasionally combined with it) the Litanies in which the devotee would ask the saints to “Pray for us” (Glenn Gunhouse), the Suffrages found near the end of the Book of Hours which were petitions to the saints, The Penitential Psalms which were said with the Litanies, and the Office for the Dead which was normally located at the very end of the Book of Hours and were said on the eve of a burial or on the anniversary of a death to aid their ascension into heaven.

Pray for Us Penitential
The Litanies The Penitential Psalms

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These pages are the work of the students enrolled in Art 238, "Art and Medieval Mentalities," taught by Professor Christine Hamza during the Spring Semester, 2003.

The format of this site was last updated:  October 2, 2017.