The Hunting Year

Richard Almond deciphers the meaning of a set of illuminations illustrating an unusual Book of Hours made in Germany around the year 1500.

A mounted hunter drives red deer into a net; from the Calendar of the British Library's MS Egerton 1146, produced around 1500Books of Hours, also known as Missals, a generic term for Roman Catholic liturgical texts, and popularly called Mass Books, were the personal prayer books of late medieval Europeans. They reflect the strengthening of personal piety and worship during the later medieval period as well as increases in literacy and numeracy, especially within the rising urban middle classes, from rich merchants to artisans and shopkeepers. A Book of Hours opens, typically, with a Calendar which sets down the fixed feasts of the liturgical year and the anniversaries of international, regional and local saints. Following this are the eight services which make up the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, designed to be said at particular times of the liturgical day. These services are based upon the longer, more complex and variable services called the Divine Office, delivered each day by the clergy and contained in a prayer book called the Breviary. The eight services of both Offices share the same names: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. Both comprise psalms, scriptural readings and hymns. In addition to the Calendar and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Book of Hours usually contains a fairly predictable sequence of elements, including extracts from the Gospels, short Hours in honour of the Cross and of the Holy Spirit, the Seven Penitential Psalms with Litany of Saints and collects, the Office of the Dead, and special prayers known as Memorials or Suffrages to the Virgin, Holy Trinity and various saints.

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