Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

French Books of Hours: Making an Archive of Prayer C. 1400-1600

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

French Books of Hours: Making an Archive of Prayer C. 1400-1600

Article excerpt

French Books of Hours: Making an Archive of Prayer, c. 1400-1600. By Virginia Reinburg. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2012. Pp. xiv, 297. $99.00. ISBN 978-1-107-00721-5.)

For decades, books of hours have been a focus of research into later medieval art and religion; as the most popular book of private devotion during the period covered by this volume, and surviving in greater numbers, they provide a rich quarry from which to mine.

The present volume is divided into two parts. "A Social History of the Book of Hours" describes the book as an object within society, addressing its pop-militarization ularity, the effect of the invention of printing, its role within a family, the implication of its primarily Latin content to owners whose Latin may have been very limited, its relation to liturgical books, and especially as "an archive of prayer" (p. 236, see also pp. 131-32, 135, 137). The second part, "An Ethnography of Prayer," analyzes prayer as an activity-asserting that it is both "speech" and "rite" (pp. 4,132; chapter 4)-in order to offer a new lexicon for the activity of prayer in this era" (p. 4).

A problem for any book that aims to cover a large topic is that it may have to make generalizations that are only partially true and simplifications that may mislead; clearly, a generalization that might be true for 1575 often will not be true for 1425. Two centuries is a long period to cover, but the book of hours is a pan-European phenomenon, not just a French one; so if one is going to make sweeping generalizations it is hard to justify the use of arbitrary geographical boundaries. Especially interesting or surprising statements are inadequately substantiated and often contradicted later. A case in point is that "an oldest son could expect to receive the family's book of hours at the death of his parents" (p. 57), yet many examples are provided (for example, pp. 54,65, 66,74,75) of such books passing to female relatives or to others outside the family. …

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