On the Hargrett Hours

Authored by Kara Krewer

The Hargrett Book of Hours (University of Georgia, Hargrett Rare Books and Manuscripts Library MS 836) holds a lot of little secrets. Like with most Books of Hours, we do not know exactly who commissioned it or the exact date it was made. We know that it was made in the fifteenth century in France and that it was made for use in or around Paris. We also know that it had at least one layover (though probably many, many more) between Paris and Athens, Georgia.

The Hargrett Hours is about the size of a trade paperback–it can comfortably fit in your hands. It includes five main sections: a calendar, the Hours of the Passion, Gospel scriptures, prayers, and suffrages. Based on its calendar and prayers, it appears the Hargrett Hours has affiliations with both Sainte-Chapelle and the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. By looking at details like the different feasts and saints that appear in a Book of Hours, you can pinpoint the region in which the book might have been used. The Hargrett Hours, for instance, includes a curious feast day for Sainte-Chapelle, a chapel in Paris that was built to house a collection of Passion relics, particularly Christ’s Crown of Thorns. It also includes suffrages for saints distinctive to Paris, as well as many rubrics and even three prayers in French.

A bookplate from the late nineteenth century in the front of the book lists a previous owner as one William Rae Macdonald of Scotland. (For more information on its provenance, see Katie Lech’s blog post.) It eventually came into the possession of Felix Hargrett in Georgia some time during the twentieth century. He donated it to the University of Georgia in the 1980’s as one of approximately 1500 items in what became known as the Hargrett Collection.

Historically, collectors have been more interested in the most ornate manuscripts. In fact, more scholarly attention has been paid to the illustrations in Books of Hours than the text itself. Many of the most intricate medieval manuscripts have had illuminations and whole pages cut out by previous owners or even thieves. Time has been unkind to more modest manuscripts, too–sometimes their pages were used to repair other books, or they were simply thrown away.

Some pages are missing from the Hargrett Hours, but it’s hard to say when they were lost or exactly what was contained in them. Many pages show evidence of fire damage–some pages are charred, blackened, and brittle. It is possible these pages were removed because of extensive fire damage. Based on some of what’s missing, however, it’s likely that the Book once included other texts that have been lost, such as the Hours of the Virgin.

The Hargrett Hours is well-made, but it appears to not be as showy as many extant Books of Hours. It contains no miniatures, and its decoration is limited to borders, initials, and line fillers, though it’s possible more heavily illustrated pages were removed. Regardless, it is a text-heavy Book of Hours with fewer decorations per page than many others, which makes its survival to this day even more remarkable.

Updated May 2024 by Cynthia Turner Camp

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