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les Enluminures

Breviary for the Night Office (Nocturnal or Matutinal) for the Winter Season (pars hiemalis)

In Latin, decorated manuscript on paper
Western Germany (North Rhine-Westphalia?) or the Netherlands, c. 1455-1470

TM 790

i (medieval parchment) + 149 + i (medieval parchment) folios on paper, watermarks similar to Piccard Buchstabe P III, no. 528, Utrecht, 1469; Briquet no. 11787, Monts, Würzburg, 1447, Erfurt, 1448; Piccard-online:  Ochsenkopf, nos. 75434, Wiener Neustadt, 1454; no. 75299, Solothurn, 1454; no. 75441, Hanau, 1452; no. 75046, Bingen, 1456),  modern foliation in pencil, top outer recto, 1-149 (collation i-iv12 v12 [-8 and 9, stubs remaining, and a bifolium, ff. 56-57, tipped onto these stubs] vi12 [4 and 8, ff. 64 and 68, tipped onto stubs whose conjugates, ff. 65 and 69, are blank] vii16 [two slips, ff. 76a and 80a, have been sewn in] viii-xi12 xii12 [+13; f. 149 sewn in as a singleton with a conjugate stub visible]), traces of quire signatures, b-c, in quires ii and iii, traces of horizontal catchwords (mostly cropped) visible on the inner lower verso of quires iv and v, no ruling visible in quires i-ii and vii-xii (justification 101-107 x 70-73 mm.), quires iii-vi ruled in lead with full-length vertical bounding lines, prickings three outer margins (justification 103-107 x 66-70 mm.), written in long lines as many as five different hands: ff. 1-25v, 38v-42, 56-57, 73-144, in dark brown ink in a compact Gothic cursive script in twenty-six to thirty-one long lines; ff. 25v-27v, in dark brown ink in a rapid hybrida script in twenty-four to twenty-six long lines;  ff. 27v-38v, 42v-48, 49-55v, 58-66v in a lighter brown ink in a hybrida script with some flourished or dramatically attenuated descenders in twenty-one to twenty-five long lines; ff. 66v-72, in black ink in a hybrida script with decorative hairlines in twenty-five long lines;  ff. 144-149v, in dark brown ink in a rapid, compressed Gothic cursive script in thirty-six long lines, guide letters for some initials, notes to the rubricator (mostly cropped) outer margins, rubrics written or underlined in red, capitals touched in red, one- to three-line red initials, larger initial “I” on f. 118v, f. 72 mostly trimmed, no loss of text (possibly to furnish the slip f. 80a) and patched with paper, some smudging and soiling from use in the lower outer margin, particularly on ff. 1 and 73, very slight worming on the initial and final leaves.  CONTEMPORARY BINDING of calf over wooden boards, blind-tooled with two concentric double-fillet rectangular frames with the central panel divided by diagonal double fillets into four lozenges, each framing a circular stamp with a paschal lamb, and eight half-lozenges, each framing a circular stamp with a fleur-de-lis, sewn on three raised double bands, with an intact brass fore-edge clasp fastening back to front, paper label on the spine inscribed in dark brown ink, “780,” pastedowns and endleaves formed from two parchment leaves from a late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century Antiphonary with early notation (West-German or Messine?) on four-line staves, rotated and folded into bifolia, some worming in the pastedowns and the boards, some wear to the binding, with a split in the leather along the upper joint and slight loosening of the book block. Dimensions 144 x 106 mm.

This diminutive Breviary for the personal use of a friar or a canon contains only the text for the Office of Matins.  Still in its original blind-tooled binding, and copied by numerous scribes on several paper lots, the volume illustrates many aspects of fifteenth-century bookmaking.  Its careful corrections and annotations warrant further examination for what they reveal about the needs of its earliest users.  The musical notation of the two leaves from a twelfth- or early thirteenth-century Office book preserved here in the binding are of special interest.


1. Although the lack of a calendar and any regionally significant saints in the Sanctorale rule out localization based on internal evidence, the evidence of watermark, script and decoration suggests that this manuscript was produced around 1455-1470, most probably in western Germany, possibly the region of North Rhine-Westphalia, or the Netherlands.  The text is for secular, rather than monastic use (there are three lessons for each nocturn of matins, rather than the four found in monastic Breviaries), and this must have been copied for the personal use of a secular priest, a canon, or a friar.

2. Physical evidence suggests that this Breviary may have been made from two from two separate booklets (ff. 1-72 and ff. 73-149), since f. 73 shows more signs of rubbing and soiling than are found on other internal leaves within the manuscript.  The booklet now bound second includes the feasts for the Temporale from Septuagesima Sunday through Holy Saturday, together with the Sanctorale for the whole winter season, and effectively stands on its own.  It may well have been copied first (watermark evidence suggests that its paper dates over a decade earlier than the paper used for most of the first booklet).  The first booklet (begun by the same scribe who copied most of the second booklet) may have been copied afterwards, and added to fill out the rest of the feasts for the winter season of the Temporale.   This would also account for the empty space on f. 72, which is blank on the verso and only contains five lines of texts on the recto.

These clues about the manuscript’s construction are of special interest since there are heavy corrections in several hands, including scribal cancellations, corrections, and additions in the section copied by the first scribe.  Other signs of use include marginal corrections and notes in another hand where rubrics are partially or entirely absent in scribe three’s section (see particularly ff. 49-55v, 58-66). 

3. Evidence of the binding stamps may indicate that this manuscript was bound shortly after its creation (see “Doppellilie” in Einbanddatenbank s005883:  Liesborn, 1469-1516; s025828: southeastern Germany, c. 1485).

The pastedowns, both from the same Antiphonary, contain chants for Matins for Thursday and Friday of Ordinary Time (front pastedown) and Matins for Septuagesima (back pastedown) set to music notated in Hufnagel neumes, a form of specifically German musical notation.  Their relatively unshaded character, along with the transitional Protogothic/ Gothic character of the script point to a dating in the late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century.


ff. 1-72, [Night Office for the Temporale] Dominica in aduentum domini, Ad matutinum, Inuitatorium, incipit, “Dominum qui venturus est cuius virga floruit de radice yesse ... V. In pace factus est locus eius et in syon habitacio eius. Traditus”; [ends at the top of f. 72, remainder and verso, blank];

Temporale from the first Sunday in Advent through the Sundays following Epiphany, including only Matins.

ff. 73-118v, Night Office (Matins) for the Temporale from Septuagesima Sunday (the ninth Sunday before Easter and the third before Lent) through Holy Saturday.

ff. 118v-149v, [Night Office for the Sanctorale] In vigilia sancti Andree apostoli, Lectio secundum euangelium, secundum iohannem, incipit, “In illo [tempore]. Stabat iohannes et ex discipulis eius duo ... per baptismatis gratiam promittebant. Omelia. Vos estis sal terre. Require in communi.”

Sanctorale from the vigil of the feast of St. Andrew (29 November) to the feast of St. Ambrose (4 April), again including only Matins.  Among the feasts are those of saints Barbara, Lucy, Marcellus, Anthony, Prisca, Fabian and Sebastian, Vincent, Polycarp, Ignatius, Brigid, Blaise, Scholastica, Valentine, Gregory, and Benedict. The text makes periodic reference throughout to readings to be found in the Common of Saints, but there is no sign within this volume that the Common of Saints was included within its contents.

Breviaries contain the complete text of the Divine Office, prayers said throughout the day and night by religious communities and priests at the Offices of Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.  This volume, however, only includes the prayers and readings for Matins, and therefore could be called a Nocturnal or a Matutinal.  Its owner would have also made use of a Diurnal, a volume containing the texts for the day Offices.  Matins, the night Office, recited in the dark hours following midnight, is the longest of the Divine Hours, including Psalms with antiphons, responsories, and other chants, along with a varying number of readings, or lections, from the Bible and patristic authors.

This Breviary contains the texts for the night Office during the winter season, and was likely part of a two-volume set, the other of which would have contained the corresponding texts for the summer season, which may have also included the Common of Saints.  The consistent use of three, rather than four, lections within each nocturn (three nocturns for Sundays and feast days and one for ferial offices) suggests that this volume was intended for use within a secular context rather than a monastic one.

A small and carefully emended volume, this Breviary was certainly made for personal use rather than for public reading. Lacking many of the texts common to Breviaries, most notably the Psalms, it answers a very particular purpose, aiding a friar or canon in following along with the night Office. It has been painstakingly corrected, with new leaves tipped in where previous leaves were excised, possibly because the original scribe had made serious mistakes, and with skipped text added in the margins or on smaller slips.  Additional annotations add further clarity to the text. It is possible that the evident care with which its text was corrected and clarified testify to the involvement of an early user in its production or correction.


Fassler, Margot E. and Rebecca A. Baltzer, eds. The Divine Office in the Latin Middle Ages: Methodology and Source Studies, Regional Developments, Hagiography: Written in Honor of Professor Ruth Steiner, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.

Harper, John. The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century: A Historical Introduction and Guide for Students and Musicians, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991.

Hughes, Andrew.  Medieval Manuscripts for Mass and Office: A guide to their organization and terminology, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1982.

Palazzo, Eric. Histoire des livres liturgiques. Le Moyen Age. Des origines au XIIIe siècle, Paris, Beauchesne, 1993.

Online Resources

Cabrol, Fernand. “Breviary,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 2, New York, 1907

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

TM 790