Treasure 3: a medieval book of hours

This treasure is a 15th century Book of Hours (D5649/1) which once belonged to the Stathum and Sacheverell families of Morley. It was chosen by a member of our Focus Group.

The Book of Hours is the most common type of surviving illuminated manuscript. Most contain a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms, often with appropriate decorations, for Christian devotion. Illumination or decoration is minimal in many examples, often restricted to decorated capital letters at the start of psalms and other prayers, but books made for wealthy patrons may be extremely lavish, with full-page miniatures.

Book of Hours

Books of hours were usually written in Latin (the Latin name for them is horae), although there are many entirely or partially written in vernacular European languages, especially Dutch. The English term primer is usually now reserved for those books written in English. Tens of thousands of books of hours have survived to the present day, in libraries and private collections throughout the world.

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The book of hours has its ultimate origin in the Psalter, which monks and nuns were required to recite. A psalter is a volume containing the Book of Psalms, often with other devotional material bound in as well, such as a liturgical calendar and litany of the Saints. Until the later medieval emergence of the book of hours, psalters were the books most widely owned by wealthy lay persons and were commonly used for learning to read. Many Psalters were richly illuminated and they include some of the most spectacular surviving examples of medieval book art.

“Even though I can’t read any of it, the fact that someone had the patience to sit down and write it makes me appreciate it.”

Sarah Howarth – Highfields School student and member of our Focus Group

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