An early Book of Hours from England.

Popular in the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, Books of Hours were prayer books for lay people. They contained cycles of prayers to be read at set hours of the day and night. Often these were accompanied by beautiful illustrations that were designed to complement the texts and to focus devotions. Owners frequently personalised their Books of Hours, choosing which prayers and images to include.

This book was most likely made for the unknown woman who is represented kneeling beneath the enthroned Virgin and Child (f. 7r), and before an altar with two clerics (f. 50r, digitised image 1). The manuscript’s calendar, featuring local saints such as St Egwin of Evesham, St Wulfstan of Worcester and St Frideswide of Oxford, indicates an origin in the West Midlands or Oxford region. Unusually, in the Hours of the Virgin and the Hours of the Holy Spirit it adopts a literal scheme of illustration in which the prayers for each Hour are accompanied by a picture of a typical activity for that time of day.