Full of grace
What was the bestselling book in Christendom from 1250 to 1550? It wasn’t the Bible, but the Book of Hours.
More than prayer books, these books were used to keep track of feasts, teach children and spread useful advice such as noting that November was the best time to feed acorns to boars. Books of Hours were produced totally by hand until Gutenberg revolutionized printing in Europe with the mechanical use of moveable type.
Pictured here is a 15th-century Book of Hours, hand-lettered and hand-illustrated, from the collection of UD’s Marian Library. This particular book, though beautiful, is a relatively crude example; it’s both unfinished and small. That it could fit into a pocket reflects attributes of Books of Hours; they were both personal and highly used.
The heart of any Book of Hours is a series of prayers, known as the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Hours of the Virgin. The one pictured here is open to the prayer for the canonical hour of Lauds, which is traditionally illustrated with an image of the Visitation.
From Jan. 27 to July 17, the Marian Library Gallery on the seventh floor of Roesch Library will host an exhibit, Mary in Miniature: Books of Hours in the Marian Library’s Collection.
Jillian Ewalt is UD librarian for visual resources. This is one of the books to be included in the Peripheral Manuscripts Project being undertaken by Midwestern universities.