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MS 39: Book of Hours (Use of Sarum), c 1430

Identifier: MS 39

Scope and Contents

Book of Hours in Latin from the 15th century, of English origin, following the Use of Sarum.

Hymn of Saint Katherine of Alexandria: starts on f. 1r and begins with the words Gaude Virgo Katerina. It has been added after the book was finished.

Kalendar: starts on f. 2r. Contains commemorations of Saints, Martyrs, and other festivities. The writing alternates black, blue, red and golden ink. The feasts commemorated conforms strictly to what is known as ‘Old Sarum use’ (Sarum being the old name for Salisbury), except for the feast of the Translation of St. Nicholas (9 May) and the feast of St. Botulph (17th June), both of which may point to an origin around Bury St Edmunds (medieval Edmunsbury) or elsewhere in modern-day Suffolk.

Hours of the Virgin: start on f. 8r. They are divided in: Matins (ff. 8r-13v), Laudes (ff. 13v-30r; recited upon rising together with 'Matins'), Prime (ff. 30r-32v; the first hour, around 6 A.M.), Terce (ff. 33r-34v; the third hour, around 9 A.M.), Sext (ff. 35r-37r; the sixth hour, around noon), None (ff. 37r-38v; the ninth hour, around 3 P.M.), Vespers (ff. 39r-42v; evening), Compline (ff. 43r-49v; recited before retiring to bed).

Folios are missing at the beginning and after ff. 32 (between Prime and Terce), 38 (between None and Vespers, 48 (in Compline).

Penitential Psalms: start on f. 49r. These seven Psalms (6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, and 142) are particularly connected to King David, who allegedly composed them as an atonement for his sins. In this manuscript the beginning is missing and the section begins at Psalm 31:2.

Gradual Psalms: start on f. 55v. This is the name given to fifteen Psalms (119-133) which all begin with the Hebrew words for 'Song of Ascent'. They are introduced by the rubricated words Hic incipiunt quindecim psalmi.

Litany: starts on f. 62v. It consists in the hypnotic invocation of a list of saints; each invocation is followed by the answer Ora pro nobis (with the plural variation Orate when more than one saint is invoked). The list begins with Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison ('Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy'). It is followed by prayers.

Prayer on the Passion: on f. 69. It begins with the words Domine Ihesu Christe fili Dei Vivi fili Beate Marie Virginis. It is preceded by the rubricated words Oracio valde bona et devota de passione Domini Nostri Ihesu Christi.

Office of the Dead: starts on f. 70r. This office was intended as an intercession on behalf of the dead, in order to help them to reduce their term in Purgatory. A series of readings for this office are taken from the Book of Job and the sufferings of Job became an allegory for the trials endured by the penitent souls in Purgatory.

Commendations of Souls: start on f. 102r. A collection of Psalms for the souls of the dead.

Psalms of the Passion: starts on f. 114r. It contains the Psalms from 21 to o 30:6. They are followed by a prayer which begins with the words Respice quaesumus Domine super hanc familiam tuam... (f. 123r).

Fiteen Oes: start on f 123v. These fifteen prayers often appear in late Medieval Books of Hours. They all begin with the exclamation O (hence their name) and are attributed to Saint Bridget of Sweden, although almost certainly they were not written by her. After each prayer a Pater Noster and Ave Maria would be recited.

Prayer on the Passion: starts on f. 130r. It begins with the words Gracias tibi ago Domine Ihesu Christe qui passionem tuam inchoasti and it is introduced by the rubric Oracio devota de passione Domini Nostri.

Prayer of Bede: starts on f. 131r. The prayer, composed by the Venerable Bede, is about the seven last words of Christ. It begins with the words Domine Ihesu Christe qui septem verba in ultimo vitae tuae in cruce pendens dixisti. It is precedend by the rubricated words Oracio venerabilis Bede presbiteri quicumque hanc orationem cotidie devote genibus flexis dixerit nec diabolus nec malus homo ei nocere poterat nec sine confessione morietur. Et per triginta dies ante obitum suum videbit gloriosam Virginem Mariam sibi in auxilium preparatam.

Prayer to the Virgin: starts on f. 132v with the words Ave plena gracia Virgo fecundata.


The script is Gothic, large and clear.


The illumination, which consists of initials, line-endings, borders and miniatures, is finely executed. Three artists appear to have worked on the book. The first follows the iconography of a number of earlier English books of hours in the Passion scnees. A second executed some of the later initials, such as the Man of Sorrows (f. 114r). The third artist of a younger generation (f. 70r, 120v) shows the reaction to a more angular blocklike construction of figures and scenes.


Initials: Verse initials are of burnished gold on square grounds of blue and lake. Psalm initials (on two lines) are coloured, on backgrounds of burnished gold; their centres are either floriated conventionally in lake, blue, green, vermilion, or they contain finely executed heads in wedgwood blue or red, some of a grotesque nature. Many are probably portraits drawn from life, and are the most striking characteristic of the manuscript. Historiated initials are individually described below. In this manuscript, as in most of those which follow the Use of Sarum, the Hours of the Cross are combined with the Hours of the Virgin, and the series of pictures is the one usually found illustrating the Hours of the Cross. The initials for Matins, Terce, Evensong, and the Penitential Psalms are missing.


Line-endings: bands of blue and lake with white tracery and gold ornament; the Litany contains a great number of these.


Borders: Each page of the manuscript has a partial border formed of two bands of burnished gold and either lake or blue, with clusters of interlaced, curling foliage at the corners and feathery branch work with spoon and cup-shaped terminals springing from either end. There are also nine full borders of similar design, but much more elaborate, with circular bosses of foliage, much burnished gold, and brilliant colour.

Historiated Initials

  1. Lauds (f. 13v) – The betrayal. Christ, cross-nimbed, followed by Peter, nimbed and tonsured, sword raised in the act of cutting off Malchus' ear, and one other disciple. Malchus has fallen at Christ's feet. Judas gives the kiss, soldiers in mail with swords and torches.
  2. Prime (f. 30r) – Christ before Caiaphas. Christ, nimbed and bound in the centre, four soldiers behind, one carrying a short mace. Caiaphas seated on red and gold dais with canopy, robe of blue and ermine, conical hat. Black and gold ground.
  3. Sext (f. 35r) – Christ bearing the cross. Christ, thorn-crowned, naked, and bleeding, carrying a tau cross, led by a figure in a yellow robe, followed by soldiers. Lake and gold scroll ground.
  4. None (f. 37r) – Crucifixion. Christ on tau cross, a Jew with a spear, the three Maries and Saint John on the left, the disciple supporting the Virgin, a Jew in conical hat speaks to soldiers on the right, ground strewn with bones. Black and gold ground.
  5. Compline (f. 43r) – The entombment. Two Jews, Saint John, Simon the Cyrenian, and four women place the bleeding body in a stone tomb, leaden sky behind.
  6. Gradual Psalms (f. 55v) – David in prayer. Gold hand of Deity emerges from blue cloud above. Scarlet and gold scroll ground.
  7. Litany (f. 62v) – The Father, nimbed, seated on red throne, holds before him the Son on a tau cross. Six apostles kneel on either side, six cherubs' heads in blue cloud surround the Father.
  8. Office of the Dead (f. 70r) – Scarlet and gold scroll ground. Coffin in the centre, covered by black herse-cloth, powdered with gold sprays and rings, divided by a broad white cross the whole length and breadth. Two large brass candlesticks with heavily moulded bases and cups, containing yellow tapers lighted, stand one at each end of the coffin, and two similar but smaller candlesticks with tapers, one on either side. On one side are mourners in black cloaks and hoods, on the other a priest, in blue-apparelled amice, alb and blue cope powdered with white flowers, holds a sprinkler in his left hand, and is apparently making the sign of the cross with extended thumb and two forefingers of his right hand, while reading from a book held open by a clerk in a surplice. Behind him is another priest similarly vested. Other clergy are in the background, and another mourner stands near them.
  9. Dirge, 'Verba mea auribus' (f. 75v) – King David kneeling, with halo and holding hat, and praying to God (in roundel outside).
  10. Commendation of Souls (f. 102r) – Two flying angels bear a soul upwards to heaven from an open stone tomb below. Head and shoulders of the Deity surrounded with flame-coloured mandorla, hands and face yellow as flame, a blue starry cloud with two blue cherubs above.
  11. Psalms of the Passion (f. 114r) – The Resurrection. Two winged angels lift the bleeding body of Christ from the tomb. Black and gold scroll ground.
  12. Fifteen Oes (f. 123v) – Pietà. Lake and gold scroll ground.


  • Creation: c 1430

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to all. The manuscripts can be consulted in the Centre for Research Collections, Edinburgh University Main Library.


1 bound MS volume

Custodial History

This is an English book showing English illumination of the early part of the 15th century at its best. The Kalendar and Litany are of the regular Sarum type. The erasure of the name of Saint Thomas of Canterbury from the Kalendar and of his Memoria from Lauds, as well as of the word 'pape' at St Marcelli f. 2r and St Lini f. 7r, shows the book to have been in England in the first part of the 16th century, as the cult of Thomas of Canterbury was a particular target of the Reformation: Henry VIII proclaimed him a traitor rather than a martyr and ordered the suppressions of all his images in 1538. There is an interesting series of birth entries (f. 135v) of fourteen members of a family named Babham, dating from 31 May 1451 to 30 October 1474 (see Appendix IV of Borland's catalogue, part III, p. 333). Seven of these names correspond to children named in the wills of Thomas Babham (1490) and his wife Margaret Babham (1498), with the latter bequeathing her ‘greet primer’ – almost certainly MS 39 – to Leticia, the first daughter named in the series of birth entries.

There is another signature on a fly-leaf at the beginning Franciscus Bodley natus fuit in anno domini millesimo quingentesimo trecesimo secundo (Francis Bodley was born in the year of our Lord 1532). Francis’ father William Bodley and his first and second wives (Elizabeth and Beatrice, the latter being Francis’ mother) similarly personalised a manuscript book now in the Parker Library, Cambridge, with single-line annotations. Francis’ distant cousin Thomas Bodley helped refound the eponymous university library in Oxford. The book bears the further inscription Gift of Mr. Thomas Douglass, Doctor of Medicine 1679. In the record of donations no further details are given about this donor, but records elsewhere in the University show him to be an Edinburgh graduate of the class of 1655. Scottish Privy Council records mentions him as a leader of armed opposition to the religious policies of Charles II. A tradition exists connecting the manuscript with the Convent of Sciennes, but this probably rests on the evidence of the hymn at the beginning, which is wrongly attributed to Saint Katherine of Siena. There are no other traces of Scottish connection.

Previous reference



Swift, K., Later Gothic Manuscripts 1390-1490 (Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles 6) (London, 1996), ii, p.235-238.

Physical Facet

Material: Vellum

Binding: Modern, lettered Book of Hours S. Katherine on the top of the spine and MS 39 CENT. XV at the bottom. Bound by James Wardlow, 1709. (Da. 1. 28, p.30). Rebound by Cockerell.

Collation: a1, b6, c7 (wants 1), d8, e8, f7 (wants 3), g7 (wants 2), h7 (wants 5), i8, k8, l2, m8-t8, v3 = 136.


29.69 cm x 21.27 cm


Secundo folio: text ore infancium.

Foliation and number of lines to a page: ff. 136, 18 lines to a page.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
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Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
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