Category Archives: Book of Hours

Finally… the de Brailes Hours

I’ve been looking for a reasonably priced copy of this book for literally years. Finally today it was waiting on my doorstep. Finding books on early Books of Hours that focus on more than the art is not easy.

The de Brailes Book of Hours is particularly important because it is the earliest independent English book of hours. Even though it is the earliest surviving copy it also gives plenty of evidence that there was already a thriving trade in Books of Hours for the laity. This book was made for a middle class woman by a professional book of hours maker, William de Brailes who lived in Oxford in about 1240.

This will give me a constant source of blogging material. Now if I can only find the time…

Oh and the book is:

Claire Donovan. 1991. The de Brailes Hours: Shaping the Book of Hours in Thirteenth-Century Oxford. Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.

The Noon Office and Compline

I’m wondering how many people are out there like me who find that noon and bedtime are the best time for some version of the daily office? I’m just not a morning person. I’ve tried the morning office and I just don’t keep it up. The evening office is really intended for early evening, the fading vespers light, but this really isn’t a good time either. Now you might say well, make time, and I can’t argue with that.  I think the best way to to maintain a rhythm is to find a program that fits in my (and your) schedule. For people who find their best time to be on the subway or light rail system, traditional morning and evening may be just fine. I’m in the snarl of traffic about then.

I just don’t find the noon office to be very satisfying. I often do morning prayer at noon, but this is not ideal either because morning prayer is geared for starting the day. By noon I’m often well into the frustrations of the day. So my long term goal is to produce a new book of hours. It would have four hours for the day: morning, noon, evening, and compline. My book of hours/primer would be in between the modern daily office and medieval books of hours. It would not have new lessons and psalms for every day like the daily office but unlike medieval hours, there would be a seven days worth in the book of hours. I’m thinking something like this:

  • Sunday / new life
  • Monday / creation
  • Tuesday / action
  • Wednesday / piety? (or piety and study?)
  • Thursday / community
  • Friday / penance
  • Saturday / pilgrimage

There might be couple for special occasions also, like an office for the dead. By having a theme for each day, the normal seven day schedule could be changed for a particular need or perhaps for a minor feast day that fits say the theme for community better than the Tuesday office.

It would also be like medieval books of hours in that it would be intended for private rather than corporate devotions. The Book of Common Prayer is really intended for corporate worship that can be modified for individuals. This would be the opposite. Forward Movement’s Hour by Hour is a role model except that it keeps strictly to the BCP program. It will keep the flavor of the BCP but I expect there to be changes. For example, I expect there to be quotes from church fathers and saints, in addition to scripture. So what changes could be done to noon and compline to make them more equal with morning and evening, and better suited for modern life?

Hours of Catherine of Cleves

Karl over at Got Medieval! just posted that the Morgan Library and Museum is digitizing the entire manuscript of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. This site is mainly useful for studying the artwork. According to their introduction, this book was disassembled in the 19th century and the leaves were later rebound in two volumes out of order. This digital edition seeks to restore the original 15th century order to the book. The Hours of Catherine of Cleves are considered one of the finest examples of Dutch illumination.

St George page from the Hours of Anne of Cleves

Being a member of a church dedicated to St George, his pages always draw my attention.  The main picture is a pretty typical picture of St George slaying the dragon. Now the margins are a little more interesting.  As I haven’t managed to capture the zoom version of this page, I’ll have to ask you to go to this zoom image and look at the bottom of the page.       The primary scene in the lower margin is of the virgin with the unicorn placing its horn in her lap, not its head per say but its horn… Now maybe I’ve been just reading Got Medieval! for too long, but these flowers surrounding the virgin seem to imply something else, indeed a threat to her virginity. Dare I suggest that the illuminator was inspired by George’s lance? I’m not sure what theological message I’m supposed to be getting from this page.

The Luttrell Psalter

51DzJrfmOEL._SS500_[1]Michelle P. Brown. (2006). The World of the Luttrell Psalter. The British Library.  96 pgs, 90 color photos. 

“D(omi)n/(u)s Galfridus louterell me fieri fecit”

“Sir Geoffrey Luttrell had me made”

This inscription makes the Luttrell Psalter nearly unique. Psalters are usually carry inscrptions recording that it was made under the patronage of a bishop, abbot or royalty, or is inscribed by its clerical author. This Psalter was made under the patronage (and perhaps direction) of a local Lord, a knight. It was made by at least five different artists working over a period of years and in close association with the Luttrell family. 

The contents include a calendar, a Gallican Psalter divided into three 50 psalm divisions (Irish style?), Canticles, a Litany, five collects, and the Office of the Dead (Sarem) in 309 folios. The calendar includes St Edmund, king & martyr, St Thomas Becket (2), St Augustine, St Wilfrid of York, St Hugh of Lincoln, Guthlac, Botuph, Frideswide, and Ordination of Pope Gregory. For book with so much East Anglian influence, the absence of St Æthelthryth (Etheldreda/Audrey) is puzzling. Brown mentions the obits of several later owners of the book, but she doesn’t mention records of the Luttrell family. This, along with the less skilled finishing off of the book, would support her belief that the manuscript was incomplete when Sir Geoffrey died on 23 May 1345, but if it was completed by his son, then why wasn’t his name recorded as an obit? Brown notes that this book would have been one of Geoffrey Luttrell’s many efforts to keep his memory alive and provide for his soul. While his chantry chapel in St Andrew’s church in Irnham, part of his primary Manoral estate, survives, the psalter is perhaps the best-preserved memorial to the Luttrell family. Most of his other embellishments in St Andrew’s church were destroyed during the Reformation.

To this day the graves of the Luttrell family remain in St Andrew’s church. Sir Geoffrey and his wife Agnes are buried in the chantry chapel, where the Easter sculpture of the open tomb was originally located, and the brass plaque denoting his son Sir Andrew Luttrell (in armor) in the main church floor. Brown shows us how much we can learn about the Luttrell family from the illustrations in the book. She notes that Sir Andrew may have had rather negative feelings about his father’s extravagant memorial plans. Sir Andrew died at age 77 after an active military life, having his first child in his old age by his second wife. In Sir Andrew’s will he ordered a subdued memorial service, nothing like his father’s elaborate provisions. Brown notes that Sir Andrew had lived through the Black Death and with his active military life may have made him view death with less piety than his father. He was deliberately not buried in the chapel with his parents but out in the nave with the congregation. The Great Famine, the Black Death and peasant’s revolt, and a long barren first marriage punctuated Sir Andrew’s life. Sir Andrew’s grave out among the people makes him one of them.

The Luttrell Psalter is famous for its depictions of everyday life. Sir Geoffrey was proud of his estates and there are a few innovations like a watermill that are known to be on Luttrell estates which are carefully depicted in the Psalter. The Luttrell family is depicted in full along with their servants in a banquet scene. Sir Geoffrey was also a Lancasterian supporter, and this is depicted in discrete ways. 



250px-LuttrellPsalterFol202vGeoffLutrellMounted[1]Psalm 109 (110) illustration scheme is particularly striking – ‘The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies as your footstool’. This psalm is prefaced by a large illustration of Sir Geoffrey (or his son Sir Andrew?) in his armor aboard his warhorse being handed his helmet by his wife and his shield by his daughter-in-law. Heraldry of the Luttrells and his wife and daughter-in-law are prominent, signifying the close relationship between the three families. Brown interprets the illuminated initial opening the psalm as King Edward enthroned next to Christ, and Sir Geoffrey (or his son) answering his king’s call – ‘your troops will be willing on the day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth.’

There are biblical and saintly illustrations scattered throughout the book. There are illustrations of the Virgin and Child, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion. Although it lacks an Hours of Mary, Brown notes that there are illustrations of her life scattered about. The martyrdoms of Thomas Becket, St Andrew the Apostle, and Thomas of Lancaster (who was being promoted for sainthood at the time) were all included.  Note the family’s endowed parish church was dedicated to St Andrew, also reflected in the use of the name Andrew in several Luttrell generations. The Luttrell Psalter is also known for its grotesques that are supposed to scare but look more fanciful to me. Some remind me of something out of Alice in Wonderland. 

Michelle P. Brown, former Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts of The British Library, does a good job of fleshing out the world of the Luttrell Psalter. She has done an excellent job of showing how the Luttrell family shaped their Psalter in ways that were innovative for the laity at the time. She reminds us how important is to know the context of a manuscript!

Here is the  Turning pages version of the Luttrell Psalter at The British Museum (broadband only).