Books of Devotion: A Tour of the Hours at Utah State University: Hours of the Virgin and of the Passion, Use of Liege
The Book of Hours of the Virgin and of the Passion, for the use of Liege, is a highly rare book for its time. Produced between 1270 and 1300, the manuscript is the earliest known example of a singular book of hours from Liege, a city in modern day Belgium.
Prior to the thirteenth century, devotional books usually consisted book of Psalms with a small section of the Hours added onto the end. That this Book of Hours was one of the first manuscripts in Liege to be separated from the Psalter, indicates that the patron played an active role in the creation of the manuscript and was well aware of the separation of the two different devotional materials. Such a separation further indicates that this text was chosen carefully by one who wanted the book for personal use. The small size of the work, approximately 103 millimeters in height and 74 millimeters in width is unusually small in comparison with many later manuscripts and further illustrates that this book was not meant for the public eye, but for one who desired to keep the manuscript constantly close. Keeping the little bound folios in one's pocket would serve as a constant reminder to say prayers and consult the tiny pages. It would even offer an aid to keep track of the passing hours of the day with different prayers. Furthermore, the Liege Hours is known to have originated with a female owner, adding yet another dynamic to the purposeful creation of the text.
Multiple pages of the Liege Hours carry small, gold-burnished birds which appear to have no specific species. In Medieval art, the eagle, as “the bird who flies closest to the sun” was commonly used to indicate the presence of Christ or St. John. The Dove indicated the Holy Ghost. However, Judith Oliver, a scholar on Liege manuscripts, suggested in an October 1995 letter to Joanne Bernstein, one of the previous owners of the Liege Hours that, “The dove often seems to symbolize a soul, from the Song of Solomon given Christian interpretation, the beloved of Christ. This sort of imagery (doves and lovers) is common in the Belgian region at this period”.
The bird, with which the owner would identify herself, would be a constant reminder of one’s mortal status and the need for salvation, while illustrating beautiful imagery of a soul sojourning through and gaining understanding of the life and passion of Christ. These birds are common in Belgian illuminated manuscripts, and while they may only be decoration, the comparison of the bird to the soul is no less powerful because the images serve as connectors between the words on a page and the mind of the reader. The reader may be more engaged in the text when envisioning the story with a work of art. The use of marginal art helps to zone the reader into the page, while the pages with miniature illuminations give a visual interpretation from the life of Christ or one of the saints in the four Gospels. This connection would especially strong if they viewed their own soul as a part of the story.
The illuminations on the calendar pages also give tremendous insight into the life and culture surrounding the people in Belgium in the thirteenth century. Each calendar page has an illuminated zodiac sign and another illuminated image of the labor of the month: feasting in January, pruning in February, breaking ground in March, picking the flowering branches in April, making music in May, Threshing in August, harvesting in September, and sowing in October. Several pages from the calendar have been cut out including the June, July, November and December months.
These labors illustrate the cultural practices that dominated medieval life over the course of the year. All levels of society were engaged in agriculture in varying degrees, and depended on it for their livelyhood. Whether peasant, noble or clergyman, each had a part to play in the economics of the community and therefore these monthly labors dominated life in all of population. The illuminations of the labors of the months are common in other books of hours, making their place as an indicator of society even more powerful because it meant that all Christians were affected by these labors and feast days recorded in the Calendar.
Unfortunately, over time, several of the full page miniatures in the Liege book of Hours have been victims of book breaking. Because few people can afford to purchase the entire manuscript. book dealers can often make more money selling off all the parts of the manuscript than selling it in one piece. By comparing the Liege Book of Hours with other books created in the same period, it has been accertained that certain pieces have been taken from the original binding and sold individually. These pieces, once lost, are extremely difficult to recover, making it almost impossible to learn more of the characteristics of the original manuscript.
Page Written by: Elisabeth Cropper
Edited by: Elisabeth Cropper and Branson Roskelly
Christopher De Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts (London, Phaidon Press Limited, 1986), p.74. Christopher De Hamel has written an extensive history of illuminated manuscripts in general and their uses by different varieties of people. For his description on the uses of Books of Hours in general, see his chapter on Books for Everybody on p. 168
 “Selected Studied of the Manuscript Texts, Illuminations, and Quires, and Provenance Documentation for the [Book of Hours of the Virgin and of the Passion, Use of Liege]”, Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, COLL V Book 422 acc.-mat.
 “Selected Studies of the ….[Book of Hours of the Virgin and of the Passion, Use of Liege]”, USUSCA, COLL V Book 422 acc.-mat.
 Letter from Judith Oliver to Joanne Bernstein, October 1995, see “Selected Studies of the ….[Book of Hours of the Virgin and of the Passion, Use of Liege]”, USUSCA, COLL V Book 422 acc.-mat.
 Book of Hours of the Virgin and of the Passion, Use of Liege, USUSCA COLL V Book 422, fol. 28, 39,61,71.
 Book of Hours of the Virgin and of the Passion, Use of Liege, fol. 1-8.
 Mauk, Ben. "Scattered Leaves." The New Yorker, January 6, 2014. View at: http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/scattered-leaves