Spotlight on the collection: Illuminated leaf from a book of hours, ca. 1450

In March 2013, the Fryer Library acquired an illuminated page from a book of hours, expanding our collection of rare and special items to support teaching and learning at UQ.

Detail of  manuscript F3666


The page provides an excellent example of some key features of medieval manuscripts. Both verso and recto contain fourteen lines of Latin text, with initials rubricated in red and blue and heightened in gold. Each side also has a decorative and colourful floral border.

The page would have originally been part of a book of hours, a devotional Christian text usually used in a private context. A central part of these texts is the eight hourly prayers to the Virgin Mary. The structure of these prayers is based upon the Divine Office, which was celebrated by clergy and members of the religious orders at the canonical hours (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, and Compline).

During the thirteenth century, books of hours were highly popular with both men and women of the lay elite. By this period, the books usually contained a range of devotional material in addition to the hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary, such as psalms, Litany of the Saints, the Office of the Dead, Hours of the Holy Spirit and Hours of the Cross. This page displays part of the Hours of the Holy Cross, with hymns for Sext, Nones, and Vespers.

Dating from circa 1450, it was produced when books of hours were still popular and increasingly in demand by a prosperous middle class, as both a religious and status item. While some vernacular examples are extant, the dominant language of books of hours continued to be Latin. The modest size (185 x 138 mm) of Fryer's example is also typical, as it is practical for personal devotion.

To view the manuscript or to consult any of the Fryer's research collections, simply contact or visit the Fryer reading room on the fourth floor of the Duhig Tower (building 2), St Lucia Campus.


Last updated:
19 January 2017