Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers 1240-1570

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers 1240-1570

Article excerpt

Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers 1240-1570. By Eamon Duffy. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006, Pp. 208. $30.00).

Using evidence gleaned from personal inscriptions and deletions, additions and other marginalia, British historian Eamon Duffy masterfully guides readers behind the veil of previous historical scholarship into the intimate lives of English people of the late Middle Ages in Marking the Hours: English People & their Prayers 1240-1570. The men, and especially women, of this world structured their daily prayers around the Latin Book of Hours (Horae in Latin, commonly called "Primers" in English). These devotional volumes of the literate laity, sometimes lavishly illustrated, had been adopted and simplified from the seasonally complex daily worship of monastic religious orders like the Cistercians by way of the secular clergy. Many of the exquisitely detailed images and illuminations from these early Primers have found their way into Duffy's beautifully illustrated book, which also reproduces a number of paintings showing these Primers in the hands of devout donors and even the Virgin Mary herself.

The traditional content for Primers included the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Seven Penitential Psalms, the fifteen Gradual Psalms, the Litany of the Saints, and the Office for the Dead. An amazing number of these books produced for use in England have survived (almost eight hundred in manuscript versions), along with many more editions printed for the English market prior to the Reformation. It was the most popular book of its time, guiding the intímate prayer lives of devout nobility and servant class alike. Duffy has mined this resource before, for his previous monumental work, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (1992), where he estimated the number of Primers circulating among the English laity in the sixteenth century at more than fifty thousand. Based largely on the ancient Hebrew Psalter, itself designed for use in communal worship, Primers shaped the prayers of medieval Christian people who "articulated their hopes and fears, however deeply felt, in the borrowed words of others, which they made their own in the act of recitation" (104). …

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