- by Philip Wilde, Information and Research, Central Library
The Horae beatae Mariae Virginis, or Book of Hours, was given to the library in 1929 by Beryl Gott, who also bequeathed the botanical collection that bears her family name. A cutting on the inside front cover – no doubt from an auction catalogue – states:
‘A beautiful MS (manuscript) of the fifteenth century on 177 leaves of vellum, with forty-six beautiful miniatures, 20 being within the borders of the calendar, and representing the signs of the zodiac, and the agricultural and other duties of the months, 13 full-page size with elaborate borders, and 13 smaller, of the Saints, &c. The volume has enriched floral borders on every page, and the capital letters are executed in colours and burnished gold.’
The Book of Hours was a devotional book that began to appear in the 13th-century. It became extremely popular with the wealthy classes as a way of continuing their devotions whilst in their own home. It contained prayers that were to be said at the canonical hours in honour of the Virgin Mary.
This particular illuminated manuscript was probably produced in Paris c. 1480 and was no doubt for general sale rather than being specifically created for any one person or family in particular. It would still have been very expensive to buy and would have been beyond the reach of the majority of people. Books such as this would often have been produced in family run businesses. One member would mark out the lines, another would write the text whilst someone else would do the miniatures and yet another would apply the gold leaf and so on.
At some point towards the end of the eighteenth century, before being acquired by the Gott family, it must have belonged to Mr Joseph Cator of Beckenham in Essex, as his armorial bookplate is on the inside front cover.
To view the Book of Hours please visit the Local and Family History department on the 2nd Floor of the Central Library. Two forms of ID (one with your name and another with your address) and at least 24-hours will be required to view items from the Treasures or Collections. Please call 0113 378 6982 for further details and to book an appointment.