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les Enluminures

Breviary (Benedictine Use)

In Latin, decorated manuscript on parchment
Belgium, Ghent [Abbey of St. Bavo’s], c. 1275-1325

TM 305

iii (unnumbered modern paper) + 551 + iii (unnumbered modern paper) folios, on very thin parchment, no continuous foliation, now foliated as follows: 1-82 in modern arabic numerals, in pencil, top outer corner + i-ccxiv, original foliation in red roman numerals, middle, top margin, with f. cxci bis + twelve unnumbered leaves + i-ccxli, original foliation in red roman numerals + one unnumbered leaf (collation i6 ii-vii12 viii4 [ending f. 82] ix12 [original foliation starting again with f. i] x-xxiii12 xxiv12 [misfoliated with f. cxci bis] xxv12 xxvi12 [-12, cancelled; through f. ccxiv] xxvii12 [unfoliated] xxviii12 [original foliation begins again with f. i] xxix-xlvii12 xlviii12), a few horizontal catchwords remain, very bottom, inner margin, most now trimmed away, no signatures, written below the top line in a mature gothic bookhand in two columns of twenty-eight lines, ruled very lightly in lead, often indiscernible, with single bounding lines, inside, outside and between the columns, sometimes full-length, some prickings for bounding lines remain, bottom margin, (justification 122 x 90-88 mm.), very fine decorative ascenders in the top line of text by the scribe, for example, face and floral motifs, f. lxi, and long-necked bird (swan?), f. xxxii bis, red rubrics and liturgical directions, one-line alternately red and blue initials, within the line of text, decorated with pen flourishes in the other color, every page includes two-line initials, alternately red and blue, infilled with pen decoration in the other color, extending into full column red and blue cascade borders, ending with wispy pen filigrees in the opposite color, three- to five-line parted red and blue initials, with similar cascade decoration, four-line KL-monograms in the calendar, with cascade borders in the outer and upper margins, more elaborate eight-line parted red and blue initials infilled and surrounded with very fine pen decoration, and with red and blue cascade border, f. 7. In good condition, with some cockling; beginning folios, through f. 72, with bottom margins darkened and dirty; parchment patch with text rewritten in a later hand, f. lxxxix; a few folios ripped in the bottom margin (for example, f. 48 bis), no loss of text. Bound in modern nineteenth-century (?) half mottled leather, with paper covers; flat spine with red label: “Liber Precum Manuscriptus,” and gold ornaments; some wear, especially on the leather spine and corners, front cover, and the back paper cover. Dimensions 181 x 123 mm.

This attractive Breviary was made for the Abbey of St. Bavo in Ghent, an important Benedictine monastery, in one of Europe’s chief commercial and religious centers. It witnesses the complexity of the Benedictine liturgy in the High Middle Ages, preserving the intricate interrelationship of the Offices presented with a complex system of cross-references with original folio numbers. Surviving manuscripts from St. Bavo’s appear to be rare.


1. Written in Belgium at the end of the thirteenth century or in the first quarter of the fourteenth century for the Benedictine monastery of St. Bavo in Ghent (L. H. Cottineau, Répertoire topo-bibliographique des abbayes et prieurés [Maçon 1936-7] 1245-1247). The calendar and litanies include a plethora of saints who were important to the history of the Abbey and whose relics were found there: including Saint Landoald, a companion of St. Amand, founder of the Abbey (1 December, in red, in cappis; translation, 19 March, in red, in cappis; 13 June, elevation of his relics, duplex), Saint Bavo, who was converted by St. Amand (1 August, elevation, in red, duplex; 1 October, in red, principalis, with octave in red; 10 May, translation), St. Vinciana, sister of St. Landoald (11 September, in red, in cappis), Livin (12 November, in red, principalis; 27 June, translation), and Macarius of Ghent (or Antioch) (10 April, in cappis; 9 May, elevation). The feast of St. Benedict, as one would expect, was also observed as a major feast (21 March, in red, in albis). See also the prayer, f. ccxxxix v, mentioning many of these saints whose relics are in the church.

The script and decoration of the manuscript suggest a date at the end of the thirteenth century or in the early fourteenth century. The Office for the feast of Corpus Christi is included, but it was apparently not part of the manuscript’s exemplar, since it is added on twelve unfoliated folios at the end of the Temporal. The decoration of this section is slightly different, but contemporary. In 1264, Pope Urban IV established Corpus Christi, which owes its origins to the vision of St. Juliana of Liège (d. 1258); the celebrated Dominican theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, wrote the Office. It was made obligatory by Pope Clement IV in 1311. The fact that it is an addition (albeit a contemporary one) argues for a date after 1264, and perhaps after 1311, but since the scribe treats this as a new feast, not long after.

2. Belonged to the Dukes of Arenberg; modern printed label, nineteenth century (?), inside front cover, “Bibliothèque de la Sérenissime Maison d’Arenberg. MS 13. Fin du XIVe siècle. Livres d’Heures en latin …” The Dukes of Arenberg were established in Belgium in the sixteenth century. Many very fine manuscripts, including the famous “Hours of Catherine of Cleves” now in the Pierpont Morgan Library, distinguished their collection, compiled mainly during the later part of the nineteenth century. The Arenberg manuscript collection, exhibited in part at Düsseldorf in 1904, remained largely inaccessible to scholars and was dispersed in the 1950s. This particular manuscript does not figure in the catalogue by J. Seligman, Illuminated manuscripts from the Bibliothèque of Their Highnesses the Dukes of Arenberg, New York, 1952. In her reconstruction of the manuscript collection of the Dukes of Arenberg, Lemaire noticed certain gaps, which are likely those manuscripts Engelbert-Charles 10th Duke of Arenberg chose not to sell in 1952, and no. 13 does not figure in the sales catalogues, and is missing in Lemaire’s reconstruction (see C. Lemaire, “La bibliothèque des ducs d’Arenberg, une première approche,” in Liber amicorum Herman Liebaers [Brussels, 1984], 81-106).


ff. 1-6v, Calendar in red and black, graded; including Pharaildis (twelve lessons, 4 January), Amandus and Vedast (in albis, 6 February), Ansbert (twelve lessons, 9 February), Landrada, translation (twelve lessons, 5 March), Landoald (in red, in cappis, 19 March), Benedict (in red, in cappis, 21 March), Landoald, adventus (25 March), Macarius (in cappis, 10 April), Macarius, elevation, with octave (duplex, 9 May), Dedication of the Church of Ghent (principium, 10 May), Bavo, translation (10 May), Gudwal, with octave (twelve lessons, 6 June), Dedication of the Oratory of the Infirmary (7 June), Landoald, elevation, with octave (13 June), Livin, elevation and translation (27 June), Landrada (in cappis, 8 July), Benedict, adventus (in cappis, 11 July), Macarius, translation (11 July), Bavo, elevation (in red, duplex, 1 August), Lawrence (in red, in cappis, 10 August), Livin, adventus (in red, in cappis, 17 August), Vinciana (in red, in cappis, 11 September), Bavo (in red, principalis, 1 October), Livin, translation (2 October), Livin (in red, principalis, 12 November), Landoald, translation (in red, in cappis, 1 December), and Gudwal and Bertulf, adventus (twelve lesssons, 3 December).

ff. 7-64, Psalter, with major divisions at f. 15, Psalm 26, f. 20v, Psalm 38, f. 25v, Psalm 52, f. 30v, Psalm 68, f. 38, Psalm 80, f. 44, Pslam 97, and f. 51, Psalm 109;

ff. 64-69v, Gallican Canticles (see James Mearns, The Canticles of the Christian Church, Eastern and Western, in Early and Medieval Times [Cambridge, 1914], 80, number 1-6 and 11);

ff. 70-82v, Litany, with Livin, Adrian, Brice, Leodegar and Lambert among the martyrs, Bavo, Landoald, Macarius, Amand, Ansbert, Wulfram, Gudwal, Benedict, Wandregesil, and Bertulf among the confessors, and Vinciana, Landrada, Pharaildis, Amelberg and Scholastica among the virgins; ff. 72v-77, Service for Annointing the Sick, with a second litany (shorter) on ff. 75-76v; ff. 77-82v, Office of the Dead, with responses as follows: Credo quod redemptor, Qui Lazarum resuscitasti, Domine dum veneris, Subvente sancti, Heu mihi domine, Ne recorderis, Peccantem me cotidie, Domine secundum actum, and Memento mei (see Knud Ottosen, The Responsories and Versicles of the Latin Office of the Dead [Aarhus, 1993], 148-151, 285-293) and Burial Service [ending f. 82v, near the top of column A; followed by a blank space, and then the beginning of the Gospel of St. John];

The series of responses to the lessons for the Office of the Dead found in this manuscript was very widespread, and although Ottosen notes they are mostly associated with Benedictine monasteries associated with the reform movements of Cluny and William of Volpiano, this series is also found in a Breviary from St. Bavo’s neighbor in Ghent, the Benedictine monastery of St. Peter’s, now Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS lat 267.

ff. i-xiii v, Hymns, not noted, for the temporale, sanctorale, including Stephen, Holy Innocents, Agatha, Macarius, Benedict, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, Mary Magdalene, Assumption of Mary, Archangel Michael, Bavo, and All Saints, and the Common of Saints;

ff. xiv-xix, Monastic Canticles (see James Mearns, The Canticles of the Christian Church, Eastern and Western, in Early and Medieval Times [Cambridge, 1914], 87-92, Advent (second set), Christmas, Lent, Easter, Sundays, and Common of Saints, set 9 [Mearns, p. 91], and set 1 [Mearns, p. 90], and Common of Saints for a Virgin, set 2 [Mearns, p. 92]); [ends f. xix v; f. xx rv blank.];

ff. xxi-ccxiiii, Temporal, from Advent through the twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity Sunday and the fifth Sunday before Christmas;

[twelve unfoliated leaves] De nova solempnitate institutionis sacramentum altaris. Urbanus quartus romanis pontifex huius sacramenti devotioni affectus pie statuit prefate institutionis memoravi. …. [Office for the feast of Corpus Christi by Thomas Aquinas];

ff. i-cxcviii v, [second series of original foliation beginning again at f. i] Sanctorale from Saturninus through Katherine.

ff. cxcix-ccxxxvii, Common of Saints;

f. ccxxxvii, Commemoration of St. Bavo to be said daily at vespers and lauds; concludes prayers, Adesto domine precibus nostris quas in sancti confessoris tui bavonis commemoratione …; Deus qui nos beati bavonis confessoris tui …;

ff. ccxxxvii v-ccxli, Suffrages, including suffrages of the Holy Trinity, Mary, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, all Apostles, the martyrs Livin, Adrian and Bavo, Nicholas, Benedict, Mary Magdalene, all Saints, and others; f. ccxxxviii v, prayer, “Propitiare quesumus domine nobis famulis tuis per sanctorum confessorum tuorum Landoaldi, Macharii, atque Amanti et sanctarum virginum tuarum Vintiane, Landrade, Pharahildis atque ceteorum quorum relique in presenti requiescunt ecclesie …”;

ff. ccxli-[242], Office of St. Katherine, added in the fifteenth century;

f. [242v], Added prayers for Saints Julian the Poor and Christopher.

Breviaries include the text of the Divine Office, prayers said throughout the day and night at the Offices of Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline and Matins. This is a monastic Breviary, which includes twelve lessons at Matins for major Feasts. Unlike many monastic Breviaries, which include the texts for only part of the year, this manuscript includes the entire year in one rather lengthy, but not very large volume. An ingenious and intricate system of cross-references, using the two series of folio numbers that are original to the manuscript, made this possible. Foliation is not unknown in manuscripts from the late thirteenth century and early fourteenth century, but it is relatively rare. Its use in liturgical books from this date deserves further study.

St. Amand founded St. Bavo’s in 631. Destroyed by the Vikings in 851, it was restored in 939 and prospered for centuries. It was home of the renowned Humanist scholar Raphael Mercatelli (1437-1508) in the late fifteenth-century. The monastery was dissolved in 1539, and destroyed in 1540 by the Emperor Charles V. The ruins of the monastery, now part of a museum, can be visited today.

Other surviving liturgical books from St. Bavo’s include a Missal dated 1388 (?) in the Bergendal collection in Toronto (MS 65, see Pope, 1999),; and two Breviaries in University Library in Ghent, Gent, UB MS 293, thirteenth century, and Gent, UB, MS 73, dated 1462. None are recorded in American collections by De Ricci or the Supplement, and there is only one, the Bergendal Missal, in the Schoenberg database. Manuscripts from this important Benedictine Abbey thus appear to be rather rare, and the reconstruction of what must have been an important library there awaits further study.

Although there are no painted initials in this Breviary, it does include pen initials with fine red and blue cascade borders on every page. Initials of this type are a hallmark of manuscripts from Northern Europe in the later thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; they are found in professionally produced Parisian manuscripts from around the middle of the thirteenth century and on.


Battifol, P. History of the Roman Breviary, London and New York, 1898.

Daly, Lowrie, Benedictine Monasticism: Its Formation and Development Through the Twelfth Century, New York, 1965; reprint 1970.

Harper, John. The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century, Oxford, 1991.

Knowles, David. The Benedictines, New York and London, 1930.

Plummer, John, Liturgical Manuscripts for the Mass and Divine Office, New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1964.

Pope, Joseph. One Hundred and Twenty-Five Manuscripts. Bergendal Collection Catalogue, Toronto, 1999.

Salmon, Pierre. The Breviary through the Centuries, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1962.

Verhulst, A. E. De Sint-Baasfabdij te Gent en Haar Grondbezit, Brussels, 1958.

Online resources

History of St. Bavo

History of the City of Ghent

History of the Benedictine Order
(Catholic Encyclopedia, “Benedictine Order”)

Jerome Theisen, “The Benedictines. An Introduction”

Introduction to liturgical manuscripts
“Celebrating the Liturgy’s Books”

The History of the Breviary
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02768b.htm (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Breviary”)

“The Roman Breviary” (text of the modern Roman Breviary in Latin and English, with historical introduction)