The Berners Hours: A 237-leaf Fifteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscript Prayer-Book (Horae)
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Type of Work33 slides
DepartmentSpecial Collections & Archives of the Goucher College Library
The Berners Hours is a 237-leaf illuminated manuscript prayer book written on parchment in the Netherlands for English users by artists associated with William de Vrelant (ca. 1420-1481). The scribes’ script and painting style resembles those found in Vrelant atelier manuscripts from the 1470s. The small book, about 120 x 85 mm., begins with a calendar of saints’ feast days annotated by its earliest known owner, William Berners. He recorded the births of his four children in Angers, France, and Epping, England between 1527 and 1531. Following the calendar, the book contains the “Fifteen Os of St. Bridget of Sweden,” longer prayers to the Trinity and seven saints, prayers for the Hours of the Virgin and the Hours of the Cross, dozens of shorter prayers invoking saints and the lives of Jesus and Mary, two complete versions of the Psalms, and two shorter selections of the Penitential and Gradual Psalms. The major prayers originally were accompanied by facing full-page miniature paintings of their subjects, of which nine remain, six damaged to a greater or lesser degree by devotional kissing during worship. Twenty-one historiated initials, almost all perfectly preserved, begin the shorter prayers with tiny (ca. 2 x 3 mm.) scenes illustrating the prayers. Later owners signed the manuscript in Picardy, France, in the 18th century, and at around the same period another hand wrote out musical notation to Mass settings (“In festis duplicibus” or “on double feast days”) on an added quire of parchment that is noticeably heavier than the delicate parchment of the main manuscript. The Berners Hours appears to have been rebound only once, probably in the eighteenth century, in full leather stamped on both covers and spine with the “Instruments of the Passion.” The manuscript was donated to the Goucher College Library’s Special Collections and Archives in 2017 by Emeritus Professor of English Arnold Sanders and his wife, Laura Provan, in honor of their parents and Nancy Magnuson, College Librarian.