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Books of Hours

Compiled by Katie Funderburg
Created: May 2019
Updated: May 2021

-Book of Hours

What are Books of Hours?

Developing out of the increase in Marian veneration that occurred throughout Western Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Books of Hours are devotional texts that allowed the average person to model their daily approach to worship after the ordained clergy. The genre receives its name from the organizational structure of the book, which contains liturgical readings for each of the canonical hours of the Divine Office: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. In the following centuries, Books of Hours would become the most frequently copied set of texts, and was often the only book a family would own. Owing to this popularity, Books of Hours offer insight into the devotional practices of the medieval laity, particularly women, for whom they were primarily made.

Sections in a Book of Hours

Although the sections often appear in Books of Hours in the following order, the content and arrangement of the texts varied widely depending on when, where, and for whom it was created. A Book of Hours might only feature the Hours of the Virgin and not the Cross or Holy Spirit, or might contain all three as well as additional prayers and suffrages.

Calendar: Virtually all Books of Hours begin with a calendar section that informed the reader of saint’s days and allowed them to calculate important movable liturgical events such as Easter. Families would often record the anniversaries of births, deaths, and marriages in the calendar. Because the calendar could be customized to emphasize local saints, it can sometimes be used to help determine where the Book of Hours was made. Occasionally, the Hours of the Cross and Holy Spirit were integrated into the Hours of the Virgin, resulting in a “mixed” Book of Hours.

Hours of the Virgin: The heart of the Book of Hours, the Hours of the Virgin are a series of devotional texts organized by the hours of the divine office: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline.

Hours of the Cross: Follows the same canonical hours as the Hours of the Virgin, except that there is no Lauds. The Hours of the Cross is often much shorter than those of the Virgin because there are no Psalms. Each hour focuses on sequential moments in Christ’s Passion, reflected through the verses of the hymn.

Hours of the Holy Spirit: Also follows the same canonical hours as the Hours of the Virgin, except that there is no Lauds. The Hours of the Cross is often much shorter than those of the Virgin because there are no Psalms. Each hour focuses on different attributes of the Holy Spirit, reflected through the verses of the hymn and a final stanza invoking the Holy Spirit’s aid in achieving eternal salvation.

Penitential Psalms: The Seven Penitential Psalms (6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, and 142) were thought to be written by King David as atonement for his sins. The psalms could be contemplated to help the reader avoid sin or ask forgiveness as well as a means of reducing the time the soul of a departed family member or friend would spend in purgatory.

Obsecro Te and O Intemerata: Two special prayers to the Virgin that appear in nearly all Books of Hours. They are known by their incipits (opening words): “Obsecro te” (I beseech you) and “O intemerata” (O immaculate Virgin). Written in the first person singular, the prayers address the Virgin directly in especially plaintive tones.

Litany: The litany is a listing of saints who are asked to pray for the reader.

Office of the Dead: A series of prayers meant to help the souls of loved ones reach heaven, the Office of the Dead is spread over the hours of Vespers, Matins, and Lauds. Matins features nine lessons from the Book of Job, which embody the anguish felt by those suffering in Purgatory.

Suffrages: The suffrage section memorializes the saints while presenting them in hierarchical order: God or the three Persons of the Trinity always begin the Suffrages, followed by the Virgin, the archangel Michael, and John the Baptist (the last two prominently positioned because of their importance as judge and intercessor, respectively, at the Last Judgment). The apostles appear next, followed by male martyrs and confessors (non-martyr saints), female saints and virgin martyrs.

RBML Book of Hours Finding Aid


[Book of Hours: use of Tournai]. [France, between 1450 and 1499]. Shelfmark: Pre-1650 MS 0138

[Book of hours]. [Netherlands?, 14–?]. Shelfmark: Pre-1650 MS 0142

[Lyte book of hours]. [England or Belgium?, approximately 1390]. Shelfmark: Pre-1650 MS 0076

[Book of hours: use of Sarum]. [England, approximately 1420]. Shelfmark: Pre-1650 MS 0077

[Book of hours: Sarum use]. [Flanders, approximately 1450-1500]. Shelfmark: Pre-1650 MS 0140


Hier beghinnen die ghetiden van onser lieuer vrouwen. [Delft: Jakob van der Meer, 1484]. Shelfmark: Incunabula 264.02 C28hoD1484

Ces presentes heures a lusaige de Romme… [Paris: Philippe Pigouchet for Simon Vostre, 1497]. Shelfmark: Incunabula 264.02 C28ho1497

[Horae ad usum Romanum (Rome)]. [Paris: Philippe Pigouchet, for Simon Vostre, 22 August 1498]. Shelfmark: Incunabula 264.02 C28ho1498

Heures de Nostre Dame a lusaige de Rome tout au long sans tien requerir. [Paris: Antoine Chappiel for Germain Hardouyn, 5 October 1504 or 1505?]. Shelfmark: Incunabula 264.02 C28ho150-

[Ordo breuiarii secundum vsum ordinis Premonstratensis]. [Paris, 1507]. Shelfmark: IUA18199

Hore in laude gloriosissime virginis marie… Paris: Germain Hardouyn, [1532]. Shelfmark: IUA02536

Hore beate Marie virginis secu[n]du[m] vsum Romanum… [Paris: Germain Hardouyn, 1526]. Shelfmark: IUA02537

Hore beate Marie virginis secundum usum Romanum explici unt feliciter. Paris: Germain Hardouyn, [1515?]. Shelfmark: IUA02538

Hore beate marie virginis ad vsu[m] ecclesie Sar[um]… [Antwerp: Ruremond, 1530]. Shelfmark: IUA02539

Hore Beatissime Virginis Marie ad legitimu[m] Sarisburiensis ecclesie ritum…Paris: Renault, 1526. Shelfmark: 264.02 C28HO1526

[Officium beate Marie virginis s[e]c[un]d[u]m verum vsum Romanum…]. [Paris: Germain Hardouyn, 1514]. Shelfmark: IUA02546


Petites heures du duc de Berry. Luzern : Faksimile Verlag, c1988-1989. Call number: 242.6 C286p

Stephan Lochner Gebetbuch: Handschrift 70 der Hessischen Landes- und Hochschulbibliothek, Darmstadt. Lachen am Zurichsee: Stuttgart: Coron-Verlag ; Verlag Muller und Schindler, c1989. Shelfmark: 242.7 ST431989

Tres riches heures of Jean, Duke of Berry… New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.; Faksimile-Verlag, c1984. Shelfmark: XQ. 745.67 T7251984

Reference Resources

Time Sanctified by Roger S. Wieck; John Plummer; Virginia Reinburg; Larence Poos
Call Number: Q. 745.670902 W634t
ISBN: 0807611891
Publication Date: 1988-08-01

Painted Prayers by Roger S. Wieck
Call Number: Q. 242.0940902 W634P
ISBN: 0807614181
Publication Date: 1997-07-01

Picturing Piety by Roger Wieck; Sandra Hindman; Ariane Bergeron-Foote
Call Number: Q. 745.67 W634p
ISBN: 9781903470657
Publication Date: 2007-09-01

The Hours of Henry VIII by Roger S. Wieck
Call Number: Q. 745.670944 P877w
ISBN: 0807614777
Publication Date: 2000-12-01

French Books of Hours by Virginia Reinburg
Call Number: 745.67 R274f
ISBN: 9781107007215
Publication Date: 2012

Books of Hours Reconsidered by Sandra Hindman (Editor); James Marrow (Editor)
Call Number: Q. 745.67 B64439
ISBN: 9781905375943
Publication Date: 2013

Women’s Books of Hours in Medieval England by Charity Scott-Stokes
ISBN: 1846155134
Publication Date: 2006-03-23

Relevant Chapters on Books of Hours

A History of Illuminated Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel
Call Number: Q. 745.6709 D365H 1994
ISBN: 0714829498
Publication Date: 1994
Chapter: “Books for Everybody”

Women and the Book by Lesley Smith (Editor); Jane H. Taylor (Editor); Jane Taylor (Editor)
Call Number: 809.89287 W8421
ISBN: 0802042163
Publication Date: 1997-04-19
Chapter: “Women and Books of Hours”

The Culture of Print by Alain Boureau; Roger Chartier
Call Number: 686.209 US1:E
ISBN: 0745605753
Publication Date: 1989
Chapter: “Books of Hours and the Reading Habits of the Later Middle Ages”

Relevant Articles on Books of Hours

Bell, Susan Groag. “Medieval Women Book Owners: Arbiters of Lay Piety and Ambassadors of Culture.” Signs 7, no. 4 (1982): 742-68.

Reinburg, Virginia. “For the Use of Women”: Women and Books of Hours.” Early Modern Women 4 (2009): 235-40.

Relevant Databases

Iter: Gateway to the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Contains electronic resources for researchers in the study and teaching of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (400-1700). Enables users to access citations in journal, book, and reviews databases; provides online access to Paul Oskar Kristeller’s Iter Italicum (a finding list of Renaissance humanistic manuscripts); provides access to the International Directory of Scholars (a comprehensive directory of contact information, and information on the research and teaching careers of scholars around the world). Subscription includes a membership to the Renaissance Society of America.

International Medieval Bibliography

The International Medieval Bibliography (IMB) is a multidisciplinary bibliography of Europe, North Africa and the Near East (300-1500), founded in 1967 with the aim of providing a comprehensive, current bibliography of articles in journals and miscellany volumes (conference proceedings, essay collections or Festschriften) worldwide. The IMB comprises 365,000 articles, all of which are fully classified by date, subject and location, and provide full bibliographical records.


Provides page images of back issues of the core scholarly journals in the humanities, social sciences, and basic sciences from the earliest issues to within a few years of current publication. Users may browse by journal title or discipline, or may search the full-text or citations/abstracts. New issues of existing titles and new titles are added approximately on a weekly basis.

Oxford Bibliographies Online

Offers peer-reviewed annotated bibliographies on specific topics in a growing range of subject areas. There are at least 50 specific topical bibliographies in each subject area. Each of these features an introduction to the topic. Bibliographies are browse-able by subject area and keyword searchable. Contains a My OBO function that allows users to create personalized bibliographies of individual citations from different bibliographies.