Illuminated Prayerbook

[Book of Hours for Sarum Use].
[Flanders, ca. 1420]. (BRMS 9)

The most popular book of the Middle Ages, the Book of Hours profoundly shaped Christian life by bringing a structured sanctity to each day of the year. Designed for private devotion at appointed times of the day, its Latin prayers and psalm readings offered Christian lay people a uniquely personal source of spiritual fulfillment while its pictorial imagery provided a focus for their pious meditations.

Produced in Flanders for use in England, this richly illuminated manuscript includes a set of eight illustrations of scenes from the Infancy of Christ, such as the Annunciation and the Nativity, which traditionally introduced the eight sections of the book’s principal reading, the Hours of the Virgin Mary. Exhibited is the beginning of the second Hour, called Lauds, accompanied by an illustration of the Visitation, in which the Virgin Mary is greeted by St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist. Although the Visitation scene traditionally accompanied the reading of Lauds, it did not illustrate this text, as the prayers make no mention of the Visitation or the Virgin Mary. Instead, the illumination functions as part of an independent sequence of devotional images from the Infancy of Christ, intended for silent contemplation at the appointed hours of the day.

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Illustrated Content
Illuminated Prayerbook