What happened before the Books of Hours?

As promised in earlier posts, my monograph has now been published by De Gruyter/Medieval Institute Publications!

Image of book from https://www.degruyter.com/view/product/533905

Although it is based upon my 2011 doctoral thesis, it departs from it considerably in several places, reducing the attention given to the Carolingian period and adding two extra chapters.  Many of the subjects discussed in the book have already been featured in this blog.

The Introduction lays out my subject of enquiry, including an exposition of the different levels in which prayer collections could be structured, as monks and nuns sought to create more and more complex programmes for use in personal devotion.

Chapter One explores this theory by looking at prayers to the Holy Trinity and to the Saints.  One series of prayers in particular, which I call the Orationes ad personas Trinitatis, exemplifies this very well, as it is seen copied into many different manuscripts from the ninth century onwards, and by the eleventh was becoming increasingly more complex.

Chapter Two is concerned with prayer for different times of the monastic day.  I compare a small number of little-known prayer programmes for the early morning, before moving on to the use of the psalms, which were well known to monks and nuns due to their important role in the monastic liturgy.  The final part of this chapter is a comparative study of a series of prayers which follow Christ’s crucifixion, in which I note the similarities and differences between its Latin and Old English versions.

Chapter Three is on the subject of prayer to the Holy Cross.  This is an aspect of personal devotion which was very closely bound to the official liturgy: in this chapter, I demonstrate how the ceremony for the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday was rewritten and reworked in a number of different manuscripts.  The prayer ‘Adoro te’ is discussed in depth, as it shows the cyclic relationship between personal and liturgical prayer with particular effectiveness.

Chapter Four, a notable departure from my original thesis, is on prayers of protection and healing.  The eleventh-century Galba Prayerbook is examined as a source of prayer programmes for protection from enemies, and – quite possibly – of prayers and psalms for use in cursing.  In the second half of the chapter, I look at the prayers used in contemporary medical compendia, arguing that these are a valuable and often overlooked source for the study of medieval prayer, as they include instructions and contexts for use, which are often missing from other sources.

Chapter Five turns to confessional prayer, which was less dependent upon the ‘programme’ format than were the genres discussed in earlier chapters.  Arguing that some forms of confession appear to have been intended for use before God alone, in this chapter I pay more attention to the literary qualities of prayers – and, in some cases, poems – for confessing one’s sins when no priest was present.

At the distance of a thousand years, it is often difficult to tell exactly what form prayer took in the lives of the professional religious, never mind the laity; but through the manuscripts which I examine, we can glimpse a little of how people prayed before the Books of Hours.

Aelfwine, dean of New Minster, Winchester, standing before St Peter on a great throne with a key
London, British Library Cotton MS Titus D XXVI, f. 19v

One Comment Add yours

  1. So interesting!! I look for ward to your posts and learn so much from them!


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