Personalizing Prayer:
the Keble-Petre Hours and the Armagnac Breviary

In the Middle Ages, certain types of books were exalted as works of art. The process of producing these luxury manuscripts was laborious and required skillful collaboration between parchment makers, scribes, illustrators, and binders. Books were valuable artifacts meant to be preserved: the materials used in the book manufacturing process allowed medieval manuscripts to last over 1000 years and the parchment, pigments, ink, and sometimes gold used to create them were costly. A richly illuminated and sumptuously bound prayerbook could function as a subtle status symbol for the owner, as spending money on the best artists and materials were a way of showing off one’s wealth.

Medieval Europe had been a largely illiterate society until the fourteenth century when the rising literacy of the rulers and aristocrats, along with the growing merchant classes, spurred theproduction of book of hours, or private daily prayer books. These tangible and highly individualized objects of devotion immediately became a medieval “bestseller”, providing opportunities for wealthy lay people to imitate the clergy in their own homes, and serving as important family heirlooms. To illustrate the rising importance of private devotion in the Middle Ages, these pages highlight and explore the Keble-Petre Book of Hours and the Armagnac Breviary, two manuscript from the Wyvern Collection currently on loan to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Chloe Howe ’23, Kyubin Kim ’22, Katie King ’23