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 beautifully decorated vellum leaf from a French Book of Hours. The text is written in a regular gothic book hand, in brown/black ink with the rubrics in red ink. The simple decoration includes large initials in blue, red and burnished gold leaf, each with pen work extending into the margins. Beginning with the large initial "A" on the verso, the text is from "A solis ortus cardine" (From Lands that See the Sun Arise), a poem by Coelius Sedulius (circa 450) that narrates Christ's life. The poem is an Abecedarius, in which each verse begins with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. The poem was adapted as a Christmas hymn in the Middle Ages. The beginning of the song translates as:
From lands that see the sun arise,
to earth's remotest boundaries,
the Virgin-born today we sing,
the Son of Mary, Christ the King.