Book of Hours were prayer books designed for the laity, but modeled on the Divine Office, a cycle of daily devotions, prayers and readings, performed by members of religious orders and the clergy. Its central text is the Hours of the Virgin. There are eight hours (times for prayer ): Matins, Lauds. Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. During the Middle Ages, the leaves making up a Book of Hours were written by hand on expensive parchment and beautifully illuminated with jewel-like pigments and gold leaf. These illuminated manuscripts combined the collaborative efforts of an array of highly skilled craftspeople; requiring the joint labors of the parchmenter, professional scribes to write the text in Gothic script, artists to illuminate the pages with decorations, and masterful binders to complete the process.
A wonderful vellum leaf from a Book of Hours written in Paris in the latter part of the 16th century. This is one of the last Books of Hours, as their value was declared null by Pius V in 1568. The scribe used dark brown ink and wrote in fine, Roman script, possibly trying to imitate printed type. The leaf is decorated with two large initials in red, blue and white and adorned with leaves and a flower, as well as numerous small initials and line fillers in red, blue, green and gold. The text is from the Office of the Dead, the psalms and prayers for relatives and friends who were suffering in purgatory, psalm 150. Beginning with the large initial "L" on the recto, the text reads:
Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius laudate eum in firmamento virtutis eius
Laudate eum in virtutibus eius laudate eum secundum multitudinem magnitudinis eius
This translates into English as:
Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.