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The Office of the Dead, in a Book of Hours

The Office of the Dead, in a Book of Hours

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1260

Shelfmark: Egerton MS 1151

Item number: f.118r

Length: 16

Width: 10.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Early books of hours have types of pictures and decoration which tend not to appear in ones made later on, after the programme of subject matter for pictures and decoration became established. This book of hours includes unusual pictures and texts, such as the Hours of the Holy Spirit and of the Passion, which were exceptional in a prayerbook of the mid-13th century. Some of the texts were recommended in contemporary treatises for the devotions of anchoresses, suggesting that it was made originally for such a religious woman. Its calendar of saints' feasts include many that were associated with the West Midlands. The Office of the Dead is one of the essentials of the book of hours. It does not present the text of the service for the dead but the prayers that are recited over the body of the dead person. It is consistent with the personal quality of the book, and that is the sense in which it was read. The prayers were recited contemplatively in preparation for death and the Last Judgement. The first letter of the prayers bears a scene of a funeral service. Among the mourners, the most prominent is a woman on the left, perhaps intended to portray the original owner to enhance the picture's power as a devotional aid.

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