minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the tag “breviary”

February and March

February calendar went a little better. Still had a few mistakes but didn’t need to patch anything like I did in January.

I tried a few different styles in February. The first page I tried to follow the look of a Flemish Book of Hours. Focus on objects shadowed to allow them to pop out of the page. Flemish book of hours often used natural objects like flowers, plants, vegetables and even animals like fish shadowed on a flat color background.

The second half I tried at a more Celtic approach. Found a design n the web that I thought would fit in the side panel and went from there.  I also took a different approach to applying the gold foil to keep it more flat and avoid the embossed look I ended up with in January.  Because the paper is rough I still don’t get a smooth shine but I am satisfied with what I get here.

March went even better than February, still working on the calligraphy, and seems I always get one date wrong and have to redo. Regardless, I felt much more at ease completing March as the process is becoming familiar.

The pictures this month were inspired by art I saw while in Mexico recently. The suite at the resort we stayed at was right on a pond with fish, turtles, frogs and iguana. I suppose this is the first month where I had a theme that seems consistent. January was just doodling, February had oak leaves timing it together, but March is all about the fish pond.

So a little about the calendar. A book of hours started with a calendar noting the various feasts and memorials of the church. Seems like there was always a day around the corner to remember, celebrate and maybe even prepare a special meal for. There are letters next to the calendar days which allowed the calendar to function as a perpetual calendar. These are dominical letters. A simple but brilliant idea. By adding these letters, from a to g for the days of the week, a person only needed to know what letter aligned with Sunday for the year they were in, then the rest of the letters would follow and they could know which weekdays each date corresponded to. For instance if Sunday (Domingo) this year aligns with “c” then every date with a “c” next to it is a Sunday for this year. That means that “d” will note Monday’s and so on.

Strange Illumination

Giant Snails

One of the fun things about Illuminated Manuscripts are finding the little details hidden in the art. Additions of strange creatures, or the use of animals or people to form letters. In the background there are sometimes many strange and fascinating images that came from the mind of the Middle Ages. In this first image, which I couldn’t find more about, there are huge snails and people living in snail shells. In fact it appears to be a fanciful version of the Nativity or a Madonna and Child. In the snail shell on the left it looks like the “Familia Sagrada” or Holy Family. I was reminded of a movie my children loved called The Neverending Story, where one of the characters rides on the back of a giant racing snail.

From the Hours of Catherine of Cleves

In this next example we see beehives which have been incorporated into the illumination. This comes from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. This famous book of hours has several combinations of nature being used to fill in the art. You can find page borders using Salmon linked together, and large feathers, and bean pods. The Hours of Catherine, like many of the other great Illuminated Manuscripts, depicts many beautiful scenes from the Sacred Scriptures, of Saints, Martyrs, and on the darker side depictions of Hell and Demons.

Humor isn’t lacking either in the mind of the artist from these times. The imagination of the artist was clearly open to all sorts of ideas which were able to be poured into these beautiful sacred books. In this last example we see jousting rabbits.

The Breviary of Renaud de Bar, Metz 1302-1303

This scene is found in a Breviary, which is a more complete version of a Book of Hours, which were used by Clergy. These books contained the Liturgy of the Hours as well as prayers, psalms and hymns for use in the Liturgy. The Book of Hours was really a layman’s version of the Breviary, and in both there are many great examples of classic art and illumination.

What I find most interesting about these and other examples of strange illumination is that the little details that seem to be outside of the serious nature of a religious text find their way into the art. In a time which has been accused of being intolerant, especially in the area of religion, it seems to be out of place. And yet in the very texts themselves we see artistic freedom that would go beyond the utilitarian nature of publishing today. Granted, with the advent of the printing press, books which took years to make could be mass produced and made available for a fraction of the price. The price was a decline in illumination and sadly the use of art and text today is found mostly in advertisement.


Some of you may recognize the term Pater Noster as the Latin for the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer or as we catholics say; the “Our Father”. The Paternoster is also an older version of the Rosary and has it’s origins in even older tradition.

In the early church the faithful recited the Psalms which was a practice carried over from the Jewish faith. This practice would in time become knows as the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office, and the Psalms with some accompanying prayers would later be compiled in a book called a Breviary. A similar book was used in the east called the Horologion which translates as Book of Hours. As monastic communities formed the Psalms would be recited daily and methods of counting began to form. The earliest counting techniques may have been a sac of pebbles or knotted ropes like the prayer ropes still used today by orthodox communities.

Not everyone could read back then and so simpler devotions developed which replaced the lengthy Psalms with with shorter prayers like the Jesus Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. As early as the second century we see the Lord’s Prayer being proscribed in the Didache.

Chap. VIII.

2. Neither pray ye as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, so pray ye: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us this day our daily (needful) bread. And forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, from evil). For Thine is the power and the glory for ever.”

3. Pray thus thrice a day.

And the Jesus Prayer which dates to the 6th century:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Using simpler prayers not only benefitted the religious in monasteries who were unable to read, but these devotions were soon adopted by the layperson. As their popularity increased, prayer ropes developed into ropes with beads and among the many variation the Paternoster took form in the west sometime around the tenth century.

The Paternoster comes in several styles; as a straight rope or a loop, with 10, 50, or 150 beads (and some variations). Sometimes the beads will have a tassel at the end or a cross. The Lords Prayer (Pater Noster) is recited 150 times in place of the 150 psalms. The Paternoster is one of many different styles of prayer bead/ropes which I plan to write about in the future.

Pater noster,

qui es in caelis: sanctificetur Nomen Tuum;

adveniat Regnum Tuum; fiat voluntas Tua, sicut in caelo, et in terra.

Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;

et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;

et ne nos inducas in tentationem;

sed libera nos a Malo.

Homemade Paternoster

Book of Hours

There was a tv series several years ago called Millennium that I followed. It was an offshoot from the X-Files….sort of. Sadly it only ran three seasons and then ended. It was in an episode from this series that I first heard about a Book of Hours.

A Book of Hours is a book of devotions from the middle ages. In those times books were hard to come by. Materials for writing and producing, along with the skills needed to create a book, were very selective. Until the invention of the printing press, all books, manuscripts, scrolls and text messages were written by hand and ink and was nothing short of art; a blending of calligraphy and iconography. Many of these books use illumination and some examples are brilliantly decorated and gilded, however the majority limited their decoration to capital letters at the beginning of psalms or prayers.

The Book of Hours developed as a devotional for the layperson, but followed in the footsteps of a few other books used by the religious in the church. The Psalter, which contained the psalms, and the Breviary, which contained the Divine Office read in monasteries. Basically this is a collection of psalms and prayers. The Book of Hours was a way for many to experience the contemplative life without the monastery.


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