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
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.