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Medieval Book of Hours donated to Special Collections

24 May 2024
Manuscript ADD 424

Recently, the University of Groningen Library was gifted a fifteenth-century manuscript, a book of hours. At the time of its creation, books of hours were incredibly popular in the Low Countries for use in private worship. People believed that reading the prayers in the book (out loud) at set times helped one to be a good Christian. One of these people was Brecht, the first owner of this book of hours. Her book has a remarkable history and connection with Groningen, as Jos Biemans and Anne Korteweg explain in Het boek van Brecht. Een nieuw getijdenboek voor de Universiteitsbibliotheek Groningen.

The book of hours is richly decorated with painted miniatures and initials. The text of the hours has been written in Middle Dutch by a single scribe. The volume consists of 199 pages of parchment in a red leather binding with gold-stamped decoration dating from the 18th century; it measures 132 x 95 mm. On the last written page, we find the following inscription: ‘Dit boec hoert brecht Johan beert soens’ = ‘This book belongs to Brecht, wife of Johan, the son of Beert’. It seems this book of hours was custom-made for Brecht.

The manuscript was made for use in the diocese of Utrecht. The dialect of the text reveals it originates from the region around the river IJssel. The provenance and date of the manuscript are evident from the illumination and illustrations in the book. Similarities with a six part Bible that was created in Zwolle and the Thabor book of hours, suggest it was made in Zwolle between c. 1465 and 1490.

The manuscript was discovered when it made an appearance in an episode of the television programme ‘Tussen Kunst en Kitsch’ (Antiques Roadshow), which was recorded in Groningen and broadcast on Monday 11th August 1986. The little volume was brought in by a lady who did not want to be filmed and wished to stay anonymous. This was agreed to. The manuscript was shown and discussed by Cees van Drongelen, the presenter of the show, and expert Theo Laurentius. Afterwards, the creators of the programme were aware they had missed an opportunity, especially given the importance of the work for academic research. In 1989 they described the volume as ‘without doubt the most important item we discovered as part of the television series ‘Tussen Kunst en Kitsch’ until now’. Professor Jos Hermans of the University of Groningen searched for it far and wide, but never found it. Until the autumn of 2023 the book remained hidden. Then its owner donated it to the University of Groningen.

Last modified:28 May 2024 2.47 p.m.
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