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HIST 2170 - History of Christianity (Jobin) - Rare Books Collection

A Selection of materials highlighting the history of Christianity to the Reformation from the Rare Books Collection, Rare and Distinctive Collections, CU Boulder Libraries.

Books of Hours



The Martyrdom of St. Eustace, MS 315, Book of Hours, c. 1435
Gift of John Feldman
Rare Books Collection, CU Boulder Libraries

With thousands of Books of Hours handwritten and illuminated between 1550 and 1700, they were the best sellers of the late Middle Ages.  Created as a focus for professional devotion, these small books include a set of prayers - the Hours of the Virgin - in eight sections for the owner to use in meditation at regular intervals throughout the day.   

The patrons of Books of Hours were most often members of the nobility, however with the rise in literacy and the expansion wealth among the merchant class in the fifteenth century, books of hours were sometimes also commissioned and owned by those of lesser means.  Women were frequently the owners of these small works of art.  Although many medieval Books of Hours were the product of the scriptoria of monasteries and abbeys, the manufacture of manuscripts such as books of hours increasingly shifted to a professional class of scribes and artists.  

The Rare Books Collection holds numerous illuminated leaves - or pages - such as the leaf below depicting the martyrdom of St. Eustace in a bronze bull (see above).  According to tradition,  the soldier, Eustace, converted to Christianity.  He refused to acknowledge the divinity of the Emperor Hadrian and was put to death.   Other illuminated leaves showed scenes from everyday life, including these images of burial and the calendar pages of 'Mars' - with men planting trees - and 'Avril' with women seating in an enclosed garden or hortus conclusus, a common medieval motif, symbolic of chastity, particularly for noble women. 


Book of Hours, Burial Scenes. Paris, 1440s.
Rare Books Collection, CU Boulder Libraries


Book of Hours, Calendar Pages, March and April.  Northern France (Paris?), c. 1460s.
Rare Books Collection, CU Boulder Libraries

The Rare Books Collection also holds one complete handwritten, illuminated Book of Hours dating from the mid-fifteenth-century and one early printed and engraved Book of Hours, printed by Simon Vostre in Paris, 1498.  This printed Book of Hours is one of only four copies known, the others held by the British Library (London), the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris), and the Morgan Pierpont Library (New York). 

For more information and to view more of our collection's illuminated leaves, see the linked presentation below.  

See also below for access to the Rare Books Collection's Digital Library and to digitized collections of medieval leaves housed in the British Library, at Yale's Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, and at Harvard's Medieval and Renaissance Manuscript Library.

Book of Hours, 1420-1440, [Paris/Amiens?], Hayes  7
James Hayes Collection

Rare Books Collection, CU Boulder Libraries

Printed Book of Hours, Paris, 1498, Simon Vostre


Heures a l'Usage de Paris.  Book of Hours, 1498.  Published by Simon Nostre
Rare Books Collection, CU Boulder Libraries

Digitized Collections of Medieval Manuscripts

For medieval manuscript leaves held in the Rare Books Collection, see:

For medieval manuscripts held in other collections, see: 

Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin M350B

Reading Room: Norlin E1B43



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Sean Babbs