We are very pleased to announce the recent acquisition of an exquisitely illuminated parchment manuscript written in the Southern Netherlands in the sixteenth century. The manuscript is a Lectionary, one of the liturgical books used for the so-called Divine Office of the Church.
In Western Europe, the Divine Office refers to the multiple sessions of prayers and readings uttered at set hours during the day according to an old monastic tradition established by the Rule of St. Benedictine in the first half of the sixth century. These sets of hours were Matins (2:30 am), Lauds (5:00), Prime (6:00), Terce (9:00), Sext (noon), None (3:00 pm), Vespers (4:30) and Compline (6:00). Specifically, the Lectionary contains a selection of religious readings (lections or pericopes), followed by sung responsories, for the office of Matins or nocturns. Medieval Matins services consisted of two or three nocturns. Usually, the lessons of the first nocturn were drawn from the Bible, those of the second nocturn from hagiographic or patristic texts, and those of the third nocturn from a homiliary. In our manuscript, each Biblical lection is followed by two or three homilies borrowed from the Church Fathers, particularly from Saint Augustine. These lections appear throughout the liturgical year of the Church, including the Temporale (annual cycle of seasons) from the first Sunday in Advent to the 25th Sunday after Pentecostest, and the Sanctorale (annual cycle of feast-days), from the eve of Saint Andrew to the Feast of Saint Katherine. For instance, the image above shows the very first page of this Lectionary, which is the beginning of the Temporale, Advent, with the opening rubric saying: Dominica primam adventus domini. Incipit Esaias propheta. Lectio prima.
Painted at the beginning of each of the major liturgical sections, these extraordinary initials include floral decoration on liquid gold and colored backgrounds; they are very possibly the products of the so-called Ghent-Bruges school of illumination.