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Books for Devotion:
Private Prayer and Piety through Eight Centuries
February 2 -- May 1, 2009
[Book of Hours. Use of Sarum]. Illuminated manuscript on vellum. [Flanders, c. 1420].
This exhibition highlights sixty books dating from the thirteenth century to the twentieth that were intended to direct the soul heavenward in prayer and inward in spiritual contemplation. Easily held in one’s hands, these books reflect a devotional intimacy that helps us to understand the meaning of personal daily prayer and piety in centuries past. The books include medieval manuscripts of Latin Psalters, Breviaries, and Books of Hours, early printed manuals for personal devotion in various languages, Hebrew Psalters, illuminated manuscripts for Muslim prayer, and a variety of modern publications for individual Christian prayer. Unlike the public church service book known as the Book of Common Prayer, these prayer books were designed to enhance private spirituality in ways that extended beyond what could be achieved through the congregation-based methods of worship. At the same time, many of them were also treasured personal possessions whose physical beauty still engages us today.
PRIVATE PRAYER AND PRAYER BOOKS
The first prayer quoted in the Bible occurs in Genesis 18:3, when Abraham, seeing God in the plains of Mamre, bows down and says "My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant." Although countless other personal prayers are found in the Bible’s narrative books, by far the richest scriptural source of prayers has been the Book of Psalms. In the majority of the psalms, an individual addresses God directly, beginning with a petition to be heard; then the supplicant presents a particular need or desire, often concluding with a promise of praise or worship in return. Other psalms consist of personal hymns of thanksgiving or praise. The Book of Psalms became the basis, if not the model, for the longstanding traditions of liturgical prayer services within both Jewish synagogues and Christian churches. However, when Jesus Christ provided the Lord’s Prayer as a new model (Matthew 6:9–13), he invoked examples of vain public prayer (6:5–8) in order to teach his followers to pray righteously as individuals:
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the
hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in
the synagogues and in the corners of the streets,
that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you,
They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest,
enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy
door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy
Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee
openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions,
as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be
heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore
like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things
ye have need of, before ye ask him.
The books in this exhibition respond to the desire to pray "in secret," far from the eyes and ears of the congregation. Each one was easy to carry and use; even the largest book in this selection fits comfortably in one’s hands, and most are slender, containing no more than what was to be recited over the course of a day, a week, or a series of occasions throughout the year. In many instances, these particular copies show evidence of an individual’s pride of ownership — personal inscriptions, monograms, bookplates, and expensive custom-made bindings.
BIBLES, PSALTERS, AND BREVIARIES
[Bible. Latin]. Illuminated manuscript on vellum. [Paris, c. 1250]. Opened to the Psalms.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Psalms have always served as a primary source of prayer. Although the Book of Psalms now functions as the centerpiece of the Christian Bible, during most of the Middle Ages the Psalter had circulated as an independent liturgical book. Indeed, most Bibles produced before the thirteenth century were multi-volume sets comprised of the Pentateuch, the Prophets, Wisdom Books, Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament. During the early thirteenth century, theologians at Paris abandoned the lectern Bible format in favor of single-volume Bibles that could be held in one hand. Clearly, these were intended for individual reading. Produced in great numbers, the handsomely illuminated Parisian "pocket Bibles" exhibited extra-elaborate decoration in the Book of Psalms. Included as a regular feature of manuscript Bibles for the first time, the Book of Psalms, or Psalter, served as an essential focus for personal devotion. The exhibition includes a small illuminated Parisian Bible written c. 1250, as well as Johann Froben’s Basel edition of 1491, the first "pocket Bible" to come from the printing press.
The earliest genre of manuscript designed specifically for individualized prayer, the Psalter was also one of the first books printed by Gutenberg’s colleagues at Mainz. But these printed Psalters were massive folios intended for liturgical use in monasteries. Two printed Psalters issued in smaller formats for individual use are exhibited in this section. The earlier of the two was printed in both Latin and German at Augsburg in 1499. The other is the Sefer Tehillim (Utrecht, 1688) in English and Hebrew, edited by Johannes Leusden expressly to aid Rev. John Eliot and New England’s twenty-four "Indian ministers" in their missionary work.
Sefer Tehillim. The Book of Psalmes with the New English Translation, Published by Johannes Leusden.Utrecht: John van de Water, 1688.
Following the Psalter, the Breviary was the next genre of prayer book to be adapted specifically for individual use. Intended for priests, canons, monks, and nuns, the Breviary was developed during the eleventh century for celebrating the Divine Office–the daily services for the entire liturgical year (excluding the Mass) that were performed in the church choir at the eight canonical hours of the day. During the thirteenth century, the unwieldy "choir breviary" used by the clergy was abridged for use by itinerant Franciscan and Dominican friars. Two of these smaller, portable Breviaries appear in the exhibition: one produced for Roman use in the early fifteenth-century, the other used at the Benedictine monastery of St. Justina in Padolirone, near Padua, c. 1431.
BOOKS OF HOURS
The "Sellers Hours" (for Sarum Use). Illuminated manuscript on vellum. St. Omer, c. 1330.
The Book of Hours was by far the most popular book of the Middle Ages. It profoundly shaped Christian life, bringing a structured sanctity to each day of the year. Designed for private devotion to Christ, the Virgin Mary, and particular saints at appointed times of day, its Latin prayers offered Christian lay people a uniquely personal source of spiritual fulfillment and hope for salvation. Custom made to respond to regional and personal preferences, richly illuminated Books of Hours were prized possessions that often functioned as wedding presents and status symbols, but the fact that many fine examples show evidence of heavy use suggests that their spiritual function was taken seriously.
Although Books of Hours varied considerably in their contents, the essential texts included: (1) the Calendar of feast days; (2) the Hours of the Virgin, which consisted of psalms and other prayers repeated daily during the canonical hours of Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline; (3) the Seven Penitential Psalms, which asked for God’s forgiveness; (4) the Litany of Saints, which invoked saintly prayers on one’s behalf; (5) the Office of the Dead, which provided prayers for the departed during the vigil preceding burial; and (6), the Suffrages of the Saints, which offered devotions to specific saints. Additional texts often included four Gospel Lessons, two prayers to the Virgin Mary called "Obsecro te" and "O intemerata," and other short Offices such as the Hours of the Cross and the Hours of the Holy Spirit. Some Books of Hours included the fifteen Gradual Psalms, prayers for the sick, and various prayers attached to indulgences.
Most of the texts that comprised the Book of Hours, including the Hours of the Virgin, had been attached to certain Psalters in the thirteenth century. Along with other elements taken from the Breviary, they soon came to form an independent prayer book used specifically by the laity, apparently in emulation of the complex daily devotional practices of the clergy. The popularity of Books of Hours spread dramatically during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and it became increasingly the vogue to commission beautiful illuminations depicting the Infancy of Christ to accompany each hourly reading, along with other devotional images. Such manuscripts were especially popular in France, Flanders, Italy, and England, and a great many of them were owned by women.
Horae ad usum Romanum. Printed on vellum. Paris: Theilman Kerver, for Gilles Remacle, 16 September 1499.
The high demand for Books of Hours during the decades following the invention of the printing press (in Mainz, Germany, c. 1450) is reflected by the fact that printers produced more than 400 different editions between 1475 and 1500. Illustrated with woodcut or metalcut images and borders rather than hand-made illuminations, the various editions catered to regional traditions in their selection of prayers and accessory texts. However, with the advent of both Protestant and Catholic reforms concerning the cult of the Virgin and the veneration of saints, Books of Hours lost much of their devotional urgency, and alternative types of prayer books took their place.
The exhibition includes five manuscript Books of Hours produced between c. 1330 and c. 1530. The most remarkable of these, the tiny "Sellers Hours" from Saint-Omer, France, is among the earliest preserved in America. Its illuminations depict the Infancy scenes within ornate Gothic architectural settings while rambunctious creatures inhabit the margins. Another manuscript, known as the "Bridwell Hours" (c. 1420), likewise was illuminated on the Continent for use by an English patron. Five printed Books of Hours dating between 1497 and 1523 are featured, as well as a c. 1710 reprinting of the English "Primer" used in the time of Henry VIII.
VERNACULAR PRAYER BOOKS
Whereas Books of Hours were almost always produced in Latin, vernacular prayer books were especially popular in Germany and Holland prior to the Reformation. Highly varied in their contents, such prayer books are exemplified in the exhibition by a tiny, attractively illuminated fifteenth-century manuscript containing German prayers for nuns (preserved in its original calfskin binding); a Dutch manuscript of c. 1500 consisting entirely of prayers dedicated to St. Anne; the rare "Psalter of St. Bernard," printed in Antwerp in 1491, which contains prayers in Dutch verse honoring the Virgin Mary; and an illustrated collection of prayers on the theme of Mary’s joyful experiences during the Infancy of Christ, written by St. Bridget of Sweden (1515). Two printed editions of the "Little Clock (Horologium) of the Life and Passion of Christ" by the German Dominican Bertholdus, one in German (1492) and one in Latin (1498), reminded readers of Christ’s sufferings by means of hourly prayers illustrated with devotional woodcuts.
Bertoldus. Zeitglöcklein des Lebens und Leidens Christi. Basel: [Johann Amerbach], 1492.
Later vernacular prayer books include the only known copy of a simple booklet printed at Cremona in 1579 containing Italian prayers to be recited just prior to death, either by one’s self or by friends or family. In contrast, two highly decorated seventeenth-century French prayer books were printed not with moveable type, but with copper plates engraved with calligraphic text. Also exhibited are three eighteenth-century German Catholic prayer books: the Perlen-Schmuck ("Pearl Jewelry"), bound in green velvet for a noble lady (c. 1724); a home-made calligraphic manuscript compiled for a family’s private use (c. 1750); and a book of daily devotions printed in Vienna (c. 1770) in honor of Empress Maria Theresa, provided with a magnificent gilt binding housed inside a matching case.
ENGLISH PRAYER BOOKS
Bridwell Library’s collection of prayer books in English is particularly strong. During the Reformation, the Church of England replaced the privately used Book of Hours, or "Primer," with the Book of Common Prayer, but this service book was instituted in 1549 for communal prayer in church, not for private devotion. Nevertheless, other forms of English prayer books continued to be designed for personal rather than congregational use. The earliest of these in the exhibition include Saint Austens Manuell, or litle Booke of the Contemplation of Christe (1574) and A booke of Christian Prayers (1578), known as "Queen Elizabeth’s Prayer Book," both decorated with woodcut borders of Biblical scenes in the manner of Books of Hours.
Saint Austens Manuell, or litle Booke of the Contemplation of Christe. London: John Daye, 1574.
Later English prayer books may have been designed to supplement the Book of Common Prayer, bearing titles like Ancilla pietatis: or, The Hand-Maid to private Devotion (1639) and The New Week’s Preparation for a Worthy receiving of the Lord’s Supper (c. 1770). The most political of the books exhibited here is Prayers of Intercession for their Use who Mourn in Secret, for the Publick Calamities of this Nation (1659). This banned booklet was compiled during the English Civil War by Rev. John Hewytt, former chaplain to Charles I of England. Although Hewytt’s call for the return of the monarchy cost him his life in 1658, two years later the prayers in this book were answered with the Restoration of Charles II.
THE NOVENA IN MEXICO
Novena en honor de la augustísima María de Guadalupe. Mexico City, 1843.
The novena was a type of Christian prayer book developed for especially urgent heavenly petitions. Immensely popular among Catholic believers in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Mexico, the novena (from the Latin "novem," meaning nine) contains a selection of brief vernacular prayers addressed over a nine-day period to the Virgin Mary or other favorite saints in the hope of obtaining special graces, favors, aid, or guidance. These inexpensive booklets often were illustrated with a devotional woodcut or engraving depicting the addressee of the prayers. The exhibition features three novenas printed in Mexico City. The earliest is dedicated to St. Teresa of Ávila (1783). Two others, each bearing a devotional image, were dedicated respectively to the miraculous image of Our Lady of Pueblito (1840) and to Our Lady of Guadalupe (1843), the patroness of the Americas.
PRAYER BOOKS IN LATIN, GREEK, ETHIOPIAN, AND HEBREW
Liber precationum, quas Carolus Calvus [. . .] usuante. Ingolstadt: Davidis Sartorius, 1583.
During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, prayer books continued to be printed in the ancient languages of the church and synagogue: Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. One of the most unusual books in the exhibition is a Latin prayer book printed in 1583 in honor of the future Duke and Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian I (1573–1651). The book recreates a richly illuminated ninth-century manuscript (preserved today at the Schatzkammer in Munich) that was made for the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the Bald (823–877). It includes two engraved reproductions of the original prayer book’s illuminated pages as well as a portrait of young prince Maximilian kneeling in prayer before a large crucifix, in direct imitation of the manuscript’s depiction of the medieval emperor.
Synopsis Iera Dieremene [...] Akolouthias ekastou kristianou. Venice: Nicolas Saró, 1763.
Also featured in the exhibition is one of the finest prayer books published for the Orthodox Eastern Church. Printed in Greek, this Venetian edition of 1763 was richly ornamented with woodcuts; the Bridwell Library copy also bears a handsomely gilt red goatskin binding. The Ethiopian tradition is shown by an eighteenth-century prayer book with devotions to the Virgin Mary written on parchment, which retains its rugged leather carrying case. The Hebrew prayer books include a pocket-sized edition of the Sefer Tehillim (Book of Psalms), printed at the Plantin press in Leyden in 1595, and a rare volume of prayers in both Hebrew and Dutch, published in 1768 to celebrate the visit of William V, Prince of Orange, to the "Great Synagogue" of the Ashkenazic Jews in Amsterdam. It was bound in orange silk in honor of the young Prince and his bride.
MUSLIM PRAYER MANUALS
Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli. Dala’il al-Khayrat wa Shawariq al-Anwar fi Dhikr al-Salat ‘ala al-Nabi al-Mukhtar.Illuminated manuscript on paper. [Ottoman Empire], 1134 AH .
One of the most commonly used Muslim prayer books was the Dala’il al-Khayrat wa Shawariq al-Anwar fi Dhikr al-Salat ‘ala al-Nabi al-Mukhtar (The Guide to Blessings and Enlightenment in Blessing the Chosen Prophet). Originally compiled by Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli (d. 1465) at Fez in Morocco, the early fifteenth-century work served as the daily devotional text for the Ashab al-Dalil, a reformed brotherhood founded by the author. Divided into sections for each day of the week, the Dala’il al-Khayrat contains numerous prayers, effusive praises, rhythmic invocations, poetic blessings dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad, a description of his tomb at Medina, and a litany of over 200 honorary names illuminating the Prophet’s qualities.
Two of the exhibited manuscripts of the Dala’il al-Khayrat from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries feature the traditional pair of illuminations depicting the two holiest cities of Islam. In each of these books, the illumination on the right-hand page shows Mecca, Muhammad’s birthplace and longtime home; at the center of the city is the sacred Ka’bah (known as the Bayt Allah – "House of God"), toward which Muslims throughout the world face during prayer. The illumination on the left-hand page shows the mosque at Medina, where the Prophet had emigrated a decade before he died in 632 CE. The largest dome marks the spot beneath which he was entombed. Also exhibited is a sixteenth-century Dala’il al-Khayrat without illuminations, likely from Algeria, written in a smaller "pocket" format that was especially popular among pilgrims to Mecca.
MODERN PRAYER BOOKS
Litany. Illuminated manuscript on vellum, by Graily Hewitt. England, c. 1920.
The exhibition concludes with a selection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century prayer books. These are intended merely to suggest the great variety of the publications that have been made available for private prayer over the past two centuries. Some reflect older traditions, such as the medieval Book of Hours; others represent specific modern genres, such as prayer books published for use by soldiers on the battlefield; yet others explore the relationship of the functional prayer text to the book as a work of art in new ways. Particularly noteworthy for Methodists is Dr. Thomas O. Summers' Golden Censer, printed in 1859 for private use alongside John Wesley’s Sunday Service for American Methodists. In this book Summers offered more than 140 short prayers designed for all occasions from the New Year until Christmas, spanning all situations from childhood to death. The private prayers begin with a set of fourteen composed by John Wesley for children to recite in the morning and evening, along with several others for family and friends, and for before and after meals.
Other modern selections include one of the few surviving copies of Prayers and other devotions for the use of the soldiers of the Army of the Confederate States, published by the Female Bible, Prayer-Book, and Tract Society of Charleston, South Carolina (c. 1861–65); the British calligrapher Graily Hewitt’s beautiful illumination of the Litany on vellum (c. 1920), a prayer that goes back to the English Primer; and the fine limited edition of the French Psaumes de David (1979), illustrated with thirty original etchings by Marc Chagall. The final book in the exhibition is one of fifty copies of the Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes (1555–1626), printed in 1988 by W. Thomas Taylor at the Kairos Press in Austin, Texas. Bishop Andrewes, a principal translator of the King James Bible, originally compiled this collection of daily prayers and meditations in Greek, jotting passages from the scriptures and early liturgies into his notebook. Best known in the 1840 translation by John Henry Newman (reprinted in the present edition), this work will remain a classic of devotional literature for as long as prayers are heard.
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Eric Marshall White, PhD
Curator of Special Collections
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