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A Book of Hours from France

Lord thou shalt open my lips

The beautiful Nativity image here – only a couple of inches square on a small vellum page – is part of a largely complete Book of Hours made for the Use of Coutances (a diocese in Normandy and centre of manuscript production) in the second half of the fifteenth century. To expand on this a little, the name Book of Hours is a term that can be applied to books that present many separate ‘Little Offices’, series of prayers to say through the day with particular devotions in mind.

This particular MS was the gift of the descendants of John Byrom in 1870.

Chetham’s Library MS A.3.132 fol. 36r

The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the most widely used and the most frequently found of these prayer sequences, and the Nativity scene here is conventionally attached, as here, to the hour of Prime, the first of the shorter daytime hours that follow Matins and Lauds as the first daylight prayer sequence. The invocatory opening prayer is still in use and is familiar to us in English through the Book of Common Prayer:

Deus in adiutorium meum intende; Domine ad adiuvandum me festina. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto; sicut erat in principio et in secula seculorum. Alleluia.
O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

Whatever your beliefs and feelings about the season, we hope you enjoy the image, which has been made as part of our project to produce handling facsimiles of a small selection of Library treasures for visitors to use when we re-open to the public. Please return to this page from time to time, as we will add more about this beautiful little manuscript in future.