When we initially began researching the Hargrett Hours, our group’s primary goal was producing a solid transcription of our section: scriptural passages and accompanying prayers. In this process, we identified the majority of our section (ff 41v-56v) as John’s account of the passion narrative (chapters 18 and 19), which spans from folio 41v through 51v.
When we initially began our transcription work, we assumed that the Hargrett Hours would follow a pattern similar to typical books of hours, in which the gospel section contains short excerpts from each of the four gospel writers. However, the more we transcribed, the stranger the Hargrett Hours gospel section seemed to be, which meant that we had to keep transcribing to find out where the strangeness began and ended. Essentially, instead of containing several small portions from a variety of authors, the Hargrett Hours only contains an extended excerpt from John’s gospel. We have also transcribed and started identifying prayers from the text immediately following the gospel section, although the work of identifying individual prayers, which frequently have French rubrication, has been a bit more difficult.
The majority of our section is made up of John’s account of the passion. Specifically, it is about the crucifixion–beginning with Jesus’ arrest in John 18:1 (f 41v) and ending with his burial in the last verse of chapter 19 (f 51v). It is followed by several prayers that appear to be about Christ’s cross and passion, with little to mention of Mary or any other saints.
After transcribing a draft of our section, we began to compare our scriptural section to those of other books of hours. Altogether, we have searched for John scripture in twenty other books of hours.At first, we tried to focus on book of hours that include the hours of the passion. However, we ended up primarily looking in the facsimiles that Dr. Camp has posted on her faculty web page. Of the twenty books of hours we have examined, eleven of them include some portion of John’s gospel. The first chapter of John appears in five of the books of hours we looked at. Additionally, five of the books of hours include a small portion of the passion narrative. None of the books of hours include the entirety chapters 18-19 as they appear in the Hargrett Hours.
Although we would have to examine a much larger sample size in order to make any definitive conclusions, from what we have gathered so far, it seems uncommon for a book of hours to include scripture from John’s gospel, particularly John’s account of the passion. The Hargrett Hours is the only Book of Hours we have found to include all of John 18 and 19.
Interestingly, two of the manuscripts we examined include prayers related to the cross that are also in the Hargrett Hours. Anne Boleyn’s Hours (British Library, King’s MS 9), which includes an abridged version on John’s passion narrative, also includes a prayer found in the Hargrett Hours. Beginning with “Deus qui manus,” this prayer is about Christ on the Cross. The Walters MS W.197 also includes this prayer immediately following John 19:1-35. Just based on this, it appears that if a manuscript includes John’s passion, it also has a tendency to focus on the crucifixion in the prayers immediately following. We don’t yet know what this might mean for the origin or use of this book, but it does lead us towards further research!
Although our research is far from over, our discoveries have led us to inquire further into the meaning behind the passion and crucifixion passage. It seems clear that the theme of the passion and crucifixion is intentional and uncommon. While we do not yet know what this theme of passion tells us, we do know that it is an avenue worthy of further exploration.