Praying by the Book: Devotional Manuscripts and Their Uses in the High and Later Middle Ages
Books of prayer, particularly books of hours, are at once some of the most and least studied productions of late medieval manuscript art. Justly famous for the sumptuousness of their illuminations and their appeal to the late medieval laity, only recently have these books begun to be studied in detail for the principal use for which their makers and owners intended them; namely, to pray. The purpose of this seminar was to situate the production and use of these books within the history and experience of prayer as practiced by both clergy and laity from the Carolingian period to the turn of the sixteenth century. Themes and problems addressed included the history of so-called private prayer and its relationship to the monastic use of the psalter; the development of alternatives to the psalter as a focus for prayer such as rosaries, rhymed psalters, and the Little Office of the Virgin; spiritual exercises and the development of the book of hours; the relationship between beauty and theology in the experience of prayer as expressed through the production of illuminated books of prayer; and the changes brought about in the practice of prayer towards the end of our period by the introduction of printed books of prayer.
In addition to providing students an opportunity to work closely with some of the most beautiful manuscripts in the Newberry Library collection, this seminar likewise introduced them to the structures of the monastic liturgy and the practice of lectio divina underpinning the monks’ and nuns’ performance in the choir; to the debates about the propriety of using images as foci for devotion and the theories of the senses and memory supporting their use; and to the complex relationship between the monasteries as at once “powerhouses” of and models for the prayer of the Christian community as a whole.
Participants: Vincent Amlin, University of Chicago; Timothy Duis, University of Chicago; Christopher Fletcher, University of Chicago; Anne Koenig, Northwestern University; Sarah McCollum, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Roy Moran, University of Chicago; Amy Oberlin, Loyola University of Chicago; Dan O’Gorman, Loyola University of Chicago; Torine Pasek, Loyola University Chicago; Preenu Percywell, Northern Illinois University; Carolyn Purnell, University of Chicago; Rebecca Scharbach, University of Chicago; Reid Weber, Northern Illinois University.
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