Academic journal article Church History

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

Academic journal article Church History

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

Article excerpt

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French Books of Hours: Making an Archive of Prayer, c. 1400-1600 . By Virginia Reinburg . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press , 2012. xiv + 297 pp. $99.00 cloth.

Book Reviews and Notes

Late medieval and early modern Europe experienced growth in its population, its literacy, and its prosperity, thus influencing the devotional lives of many Christians on the continent. A number of events contributed to these factors, including the end of the Black Death, the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, and the end of the Hundred Years' War being among them. The beginning of the use of the printing press initiated a somewhat slow technological revolution that, in turn, influenced the many reformations. Add to these very influential factors the arrival and growth of humanism, with its emphasis on textual examination and the growth of art in every conceivable form in most every corner in Europe, and one must admit that Virginia Reinburg has chosen two very active, influential, and imaginative centuries in which to pursue the examination of devotion. In Spain and France, those who could read, whether it be their own vulgar tongue or Latin, were not satisfied with the more mundane forms of devotional life, such as attendance at mass, confession, or any prescribed yet occasional forms of piety. There arose new forms of literature such as the autobiography, spiritual exercises, saint's lives, books of penance, guides for spirituality, missals, and of course as here, books of hours. This period had much to choose for the Christian seeking to deepen her or his experience. These guides, once obtained, were immediate and available whenever the owner desired to consult them, as opposed to church life, which was ordered but not often immediately available.

Reinburg identifies her thesis quickly, simply, and briefly: "this is a study of the book of hours in the time and place of its greatest popularity: France from the late fourteenth to the early seventeenth century" (1). And this is exactly what she accomplishes in this marvelous work--and much more. She then provides the foundation for this: "in this book I offer a new lexicon for the activity of prayer in this era. Here, two ideas are key: "prayer was speech and prayer was rite" (4). On the next several pages, she establishes cautious parameters in which she worked. These include a brief study of the rites of prayer, an "archive" of prayer, literacy, authority, and its relationship to liturgy. The introduction concludes with a description of the twofold division of the methodology of the book. On these pages, she discusses how she approached the books of hours as though they were "artifacts." By this she intended to "shed light on its makers and users" (8). Reinburg also describes her methodology for each of the two parts of the book. Part 1 is "A Social History of the Book of Hours" (13). This includes a brief study of many aspects of the medieval book in general as well as books of hours in particular. …

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