Typical Structure of a Book of Hours

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Books of Hours were devotional works focusing on the Office of the Virgin, which ran from Matins to Compline in a fixed order.
typical structure:

  • 1. Calendar (dates of holy days, including Christmas, and saints’ days)
  • 2. Pericopes (excerpts from the four Gospels)
  • 3. Hours of the Virgin
  • 4. Hours of the Holy Cross and Hours of the Holy Spirit
  • 5. Prayers to Mary: Obsecro te and O intemerata
  • 6. Penitential psalms
  • 7. Office of the Dead
  • 8. Suffrages of prayers to the saints
  • 9. Supplementary prayers (optional section)
The Hours of the Virgin form the core of the Book of Hours with their relatively fixed text allowing for regional variations. Composed in accordance with the eight canonical Hours and consisting of excerpts from the psalms together with antiphons and responses, this prayer cycle is illustrated by a traditional program of scenes. Generally, there is one illumination for each Hour recalling the life of the Virgin and the childhood of Christ. The artistic rendering varies considerably.
  • Matins The Annunciation
  • Lauds The Visitation
  • Prime The Nativity
  • Terce The Annunciation to the Shepherds
  • Sext The Adoration of the Magi
  • None The Presentation in the Temple
  • Vespers The Flight into Egypt(or the Massacre of the Innocents)
  • Compline The Coronation of the Virgin (or the Flight into Egypt or the Massacre of the Innocents)
  • This first cycle may be completed by that of the Hours of the Passion to sum up the main stages of the end of the life of Christ.
  • Matins The Agony
  • Lauds The Betrayal
  • Prime Christ before Pilate
  • Terce The Scourging
  • Sext Christ Carrying the Cross
  • None The Crucifixion
  • Vespers The Deposition or the Descent from the Cross
  • Compline The Entombment

Credits: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts / Musée de beaux-arts de Montréal for permissions to use texts prepared by Brenda Dunn-Lardeau et Richard Virr for the 2018 exhibition: Resplendent Illuminations: Books of Hours from the 13th to the 16th Century in Quebec Collections / Resplendissantes enluminures : Livres d’Heures du XIIIe au XVIe siècle dans les collections du Québec.