Books of Hours

Books of Hours were produced in greater quantities than any other book in the Middle Ages, including the Bible and the Golden Legend. The Book of Hours structured the entire day around a set of prayers, many of which were derived from the psalms, creating a daily routine of devotions that were recited in sequence at three-hour intervals, from Matins at dawn through Compline in the evening. Additional prayers and devotional texts were collected into many Books of Hours, reflecting local practices and possibly individual tastes.

Takamiya MS 100: Book of hours

Takamiya MS 100. Book of Hours according to the Use of Sarum. England, possibly London, c. 1410.

The elaborate historiated initial in Takamiya MS 100 surrounds an image of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would become the virgin mother of Christ. This particular prayer was recited at Matins as part of a prayer cycle called the Hours of the Virgin. Originating as early as the ninth century, these prayers were at the heart of the Book of Hours tradition. The scroll (called a banderole) contains Gabriel’s familiar greeting to Mary: “Ave Maria, gratia plena,” or “Hail Mary, full of grace.”

Takamiya MS 101: Book of hours

Takamiya MS 101. Book of Hours (fragment). Bruges, c. 1470.

Takamiya MS 101 contains the opening prayer of the Commendation of Souls, a text commonly found after the Office of the Dead. In the large historiated initial “B” that marks the beginning of Psalm 119, two angels bear the souls of the dead to Heaven, abandoning graves below and ascending toward God.