Marking the Hours English People and Their Prayers, 1240–1570 Eamon Duffy Yale University Press, $35, 208 pp.
Today, every decent-sized museum displays one or two examples of those lavish medieval compendiums known as Books of Hours. With their beautiful illuminations and finely rubricated calligraphy, these books continue to be prized by collectors, and many noncollectors have bought single pages for their own enjoyment.
The books (about eight hundred full manuscripts have come down to us) have been the object of study by art historians, but Eamon Duffy, the noted Cambridge historian, studied the parts of them that art historians deplore: their jottings, erasures, and personal annotations, including pasted-in additions and penned-in family histories. Duffy’s purpose is twofold: to discover what the markings may tell us about the history of personal piety in the medieval period; and to test the hypothesis that the widespread use of these books reveals a turning away from institutional piety to a more self-centered, privatized form of religious devotion. Duffy demurs when it comes to the latter issue, but given his fine historical sense, he has much to say concerning the former.
The Books of Hours, as the title indicates, were...