Cambridge Illuminations

26 July to 11 December 2005
At Cambridge University Library and the Fitzwilliam Museum




Private Devotion: Humility and Splendour

At the Fitzwilliam Museum

The spiritual life of individuals in the Middle Ages was conditioned by their observation and emulation of publicly performed liturgical practices. Their private prayer books developed out of the texts used by the religious in the communal celebration of the divine office.

The standard books for private devotion throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were the Psalter and the Book of Hours. The Psalms were the central liturgical and devotional text of the Middle Ages, but from the mid-thirteenth century onwards the Book of Hours provided the readings most conveniently structured for private prayer. Some of these manuscripts belonged to clerical, monastic, and mendicant readers, but the vast majority were made for the laity. They received sumptuous illustration displaying the religious beliefs and worldly pursuits of their owners.