For the next two days I’ll be blogging from Columbia, South Carolina, on the beautiful USC campus, attending a two-day seminar on “Understanding the Medieval Book.” Thirty (30) attendees from 12 states have come together for four workshops and two evening lectures given by Christopher de Hamel, a world authority on medieval (especially illuminated) manuscripts. Each workshop will focus on one genre of medieval book: the Bible, the Book of Hours (horae), the Breviary, and the Missal.
As de Hamel notes in his The Book. A History of the Bible (2001), “probably more has been written about the Bible, over a longer period, than about any other subject. More manuscripts of the Bible, or parts of the Bible, survive from the Middle Ages than any other tangible artefacts.”
Books of Hours
“A Book of Hours is a compendium of different devotional texts which the owner could read in private … the core of the manuscript (usually about a third of the way through the volume) comprises the Hours of the Virgin: a standard series of prayers and psalms intended to be used in honor of the Virgin Mary at each of the canonical hours of the day. These are Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.” (de Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts (1986, rev. 1994)–same for next two).
A “fundamental distinction in the services of the late medieval Church is between the Mass and the daily offices. These were completely different in function and in form. The Mass is the communion service or Eucharist, one of the most solemn and important Sacraments of the Church, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper and consisting of consecrating and partaking of the bread and wine which represent the body and blood of Christ. It was celebrated at the altar, and its service-book was the Missal.”
“The Mass is not to be confused with the daily services performed in the choir: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. We discussed the shortened version of these offices in the chapter on Books of Hours. They are not sacramental services, but are basically prayers and anthems in honor and praise of Christ and the saints. Their service book was the Breviary. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, antiquarians used to call any medieval liturgical manuscript a ‘Missal’ (be cautious therefore of titles added on the spines of manuscripts), and even now cataloguers confuse Breviaries and Missals. To the medieval mind, this would be unthinkable.”