Its odd the circuitous route that research sometimes leads you on, or I’m just not very disciplined at staying on topic. Hmmm… well, that’s possible. Anyway, one of the interesting tangents that my study of Bede’s breviate pslater has taken is that breviate psalters are most commonly found in private devotional books and later Books of Hours. This continuity from Anglo-Saxon devotional books, like the Book of Cerne, to late medieval Books of Hours, primarily for the laity, and eventually to today’s Book of Common Prayer (BCP), the prayer book of the English reformation that is still used today, is intriguing.
The Book of Common Prayer is a somewhat odd in the history of prayer books because it is for both corporate and personal prayer. Indeed, even the daily prayer is written in such a way that it can be used corporately. The Book of Common Prayer has many advantages: it is covers all possible needs for corporate liturgy, catechism and historical documents, most needs for private prayer and perhaps above all is an instrument of unity for the Anglican Communion. As such it has had an immense impact on the English diaspora as this one book owned by the laity made it possible to carry the faith around the globe. Today each national church in the Anglican Communion produces their own revised text or uses a historic Anglican version of the BCP. One of the disadvantages of the BCP is that as an Episcopalian instrument of unity planning and executing revisions is an extremely long and arduous process. The current BCP for the US was produced in 1979 and the previous was in 1928. To my mind the greatest disadvantage of changing so slowly is its effect on the BCPs usefulness for private prayer. Anyway, I have digressed too far away from my topic for today. One of the give-aways of the Book of Hours impact on the BCP is the inclusion of a full psalter.
A while back MJ Toswell wrote an interesting paper on the relationship between late Anglo-Saxon psalters and Books of Hours. One of the things I find really interesting is that these late A-S psalters had collects after each psalm (which turns the psalm into a Christian prayer). So it is more of a devotional book than a transcript of one book of scripture.
“the frequency with which a psalter manuscript in the later Anglo-Saxon period concludes with a set of prayers and a litany, itself a formalized prayer, suggests the notion of a short reading (a psalm, easily identified in these manuscripts and clearly punctuated for reading aloud or silently) followed by a prayer. This is, of course, the process underlying the development of private devotional texts, whether in Latin or in the vernacular. (p. 18)
“Although these manuscripts [Books of Hours] varied in size and decoration, they were almost always commissioned by one person for his, or usually her, own use. They included short versions of the Offices for private use, personal prayers and meditations, and selected didactic texts for enlightenment. The texts were often a mixture of Latin and the vernacular. The prayers, meditations and sermons were generally couched in fairly simple terms, and were lavishly illustrated as a further aid to comprehension and for glory.” (p. 20)
Although there are format differences (such as the development of distinct offices), the elements of the Book of Hours are found in the late medieval psalter texts and the Book of Cerne and related texts. I think that is fascinating. Its a shame that the practice of producing Books of Hours has gone out of style.
M. J. Toswell “The Late Anglo-Saxon Psalter: Ancestor of the Book of Hours?” Florilegium 14: 1995-6, p. 1-24