Members of the clergy were not the only people in the Middle Ages who wanted to live a pious and religious life. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries saw a rise in the demand for devotional books aimed at lay people. Books of Hours, containing the daily prayers according to the canonical hours in the day, were the most popular devotional books during this time. Another type of a religious manual was the Breviarium. These books, commonly used by members of the clergy, contained not only the liturgy of hours but also a choir psalter, litanies, and prayers for specific holy days. In the Late Middle Ages increasingly more members of the nobility wanted to own a breviary. Since a breviary was bigger and more elaborate than a Book of Hours it was possible to add more miniatures1. Miniatures and other beautiful decorations made these books a symbol of high social status in addition to their function as a devotional manual.
This lay breviary does not contain any miniatures but is decorated with many pen-flourished initials. From the style of these decorations it can be concluded that the manuscript was produced in the Convent of St. Ursula in Delft (the Netherlands). It also contains tables for the practice of bloodletting. Tables with this type of knowledge were often added in devotional manuscripts, since many people at the time believed that bloodletting inspired spiritual asceticism and could cure various ailments.
- While the medieval book was made out of sheets, it is the quire that is the object's building block. A quire is a small package of folded sheets usually made from bifolia. To create a bifolium, a sheet is folded in half (each half is called a 'folium', which consists of two 'pages', i.e. the front and back of the folium). How many bifolia were used in each quire of this manuscript? Clue: take a look at the catchwords in the lower margins.
- Most manuscripts lack miniatures and the colorful decoration that medieval books are so well known for. The reason for this absence is usually pragmatic: there was no need for such decorative elements or the reader lacked the financial means for them. However, many medieval books contain some color, however little or rudimentary. Make an inventory of all colors present in this manuscript, from the main text (what color is it, does its color vary or is it constant?) and the chapter titles, to any other colorful element the book may have. What other colors than that of the main text are present and what purpose do they serve? In other words, why were other colors than the regular brown or black ink of the main text added to the manuscript?
- Lieftinck, G. I. (1948). Codices Manuscripti V: codicum in finibus belgarum ante annum 1550 conscriptorum qui in bibliotheca universitatis asservantur (Vol. 1). Brill.
- Biemans, J. A. A. M. (1984). Middelnederlandse bijbelhandschriften. Brill.
- Pächt, O., & Alexander, J. J. G. (1966). Illuminated manuscripts in the Bodleian Library Oxford. Clarendon Press.
- Gumbert, J. P. (2009). Illustrated Inventory of Medieval Manuscripts in Latin script in the Netherlands. Verloren.