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Common elements in Books of Hours,
both manuscript and printed:

A liturgical calendar showing feast days of the church year, both fixed, like Christmas, and “movable” (depending on cycles of the moon), like Easter. Important feast days were written or printed in red ink, hence the expression, “red-letter day.”

Gordon 1511 .C38
Gordon 1597 .C38

Short passages from the four Gospels, one from each Evangelist--John 1.1-14, Luke 1.26-38, Matthew 2.1-12, Mark 16.14-20-- essentially a synopsis of Christian belief.


St. John - Gordon 1540 .C38

St. Luke - Gordon 1511 .C38

St. Mark - Gordon 1597 .C38

The Hours of the Virgin – prayers, (mostly taken from Psalms) addressed to the Virgin Mary, to be recited at eight different periods, or “hours,” of the day:

Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.


Gordon 1597 .C38

Gordon 1540 .C38

Other prayer sequences, including most commonly the Hours of the Cross and the Hours of the Holy Spirit.

These additional hours are sometimes found later in the volume, following the Office of the Dead, as is the case in both the 1511 and the 1597 Horae in the Gordon Collection.


Gordon 1540 .C38

Gordon 1597 .C38

Seven Penitential Psalms, Litanies, Prayers to the Virgin and to various saints.

(Numerous additional orationes - to saints as well as to the Virgin Mary and Christ - follow the Office of the Dead in many books of hours.)


Gordon 1540 .C38

Gordon 1540 .C38

Gordon 1511 .C38

Gordon 1597 .C38

Gordon 1511 .C38

Office of the Dead

(prayers to be recited before a burial or on the anniversary of a loved one’s death)


Gordon 1540 .C38

Gordon 1511 .C38

Gordon 1597 .C38

Forms of Illustration

Whether manuscript or printed, books of hours share many common forms of illustration and decoration, including ornate borders and rubrication (the process of writing or printing titles, headers and key words in red).


Gordon1511 .C38

Gordon 1597 .C38

Each month of the calendar is typically illustrated by a scene of a labor associated with that season (shearing sheep in June, for example, or harvesting crops in the months of fall). Zodiacal signs were sometimes included in the illustrated scene or in the border around it. Less commonly, the seasons and months of the year served to represent the ages of man, from youth (spring) to old age (winter).


Gordon 1540 .C38

Gordon 1511 .C38
Gordon 1597 .C38

Full-page illustrations of certain scenes recur in the vast majority of books of hours from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance. These essential scenes include the depictions of the Gospel writers that accompany the Gospel passages, the Annunciation scene in the Hours of the Virgin, the Crucifixion in the Hours of the Cross, and Bathsheba in her bath (or David with his harp), in the Seven Penitential Psalms.


Gordon 1511 .C38

Gordon 1511 .C38

Gordon 1540 .C38

Gordon 1597 .C38

Illustrations in printed hours include some additional topics. The depiction of “planetary man,” for example, shows human anatomy (the “microcosm”) in relation to the cosmos (“the macrocosm”), a theme that surfaces often in works of the period.



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Digital facsimiles of books of hours

Life of St. Margaret page



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