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Hargrett Hours Project: Fall 2016 conclusions

A bit of beauty from the Hargrett Hours
A bit of beauty from the Hargrett Hours

The semester is wrapping up here. Last finals are being administered today; students are packing up to head home for Christmas break; professors are grading frantically. So it’s a good day for a final post of the semester that sums up the amazing work that the students accomplished this semester.

A few advance words. Going into the course’s final unit, I had no clear benchmarks for what the students would be able to complete in a six-week unit. How difficult would the transcription be? Would they be able to identify the Latin and French prayers they transcribed? Would they be able to figure out the manuscript’s use, or would the process of comparing our calendar to others be too difficult? If this group had conquered 30-40% of the transcription and identification of use and texts, I would have been very pleased.

They didn’t. They finished about 80% of the research into the Hargrett Hours.

Mind. Blown.

Coming out of Thanksgiving Break, at the point the students stopped researching and began writing their final reports, I was in awe of the progress they had made on this manuscript. The use was identified firmly, the manuscript’s textual peculiarities were pinned down, the collation and physical description was complete, and we have a nearly full table of contents. While there are still some outstanding textual questions and quirks to interrogate, the next class will be doing much less transcription and much more research into the specific milieu in which this manuscript appears to have been constructed.

So what follows is a synopsis of what we know firmly about the Hargrett Hours as of December 2016, based on the students’ final reports and (in a few instances) my own observations.

The work of the codicology group revealed a physically complicated (and incomplete) manuscript that has seen serious use. The manuscript went through three stages of binding efforts: (1) the original, fifteenth-century binding (of which no visible evidence remains); (2) a temporary binding of stab-stitching rather than traditional sewing onto supports; (3) the current, probably nineteenth-century binding, at which point the guarded bifolia and exciting tape jobs (discussed in the Codicology group’s interim blog report) were executed. The manuscript has also lost many quires and leaves. Codicology postulates that the entire Hours of the Virgin is now lost, as well as (at minimum) the opening of the Hours of the Passion. These sections would have fallen between current Quire I (the calendar) and Quire II (a single bifolium that contains a portion of Lauds of the Hours of the Passion). We are also clearly missing at least one quire at the end of the manuscript, as the presence of a catchword on fol. 85v indicates. It is likely that several quires are missing, if the Hargrett Hours originally closed with the Office of the Dead (as is traditional), because the current final folios contain a French prayer to the Virgin. The evidence of offsetting on extant leaves, as well as slices in the parchment (where a knife cut too deeply), indicates that some pages that originally included decorated borders have been removed. Additionally, the manuscript was damaged by fire; soot and charring mark many pages, and the parchment of the final leaf has physically changed due to heat. It seems highly probable that this damage predates the stab-stitching rebinding, although the relationship of fire damage to the deliberately excised decorations is not clear (and may be impossible to determine).

Codicology also began research into the bookplate pasted onto the current, pulp-paper flyleaves. Dated to 1883, the bookplate (an allegorical scene designed and illustrated by C.R. Halkett of Edinburgh) probably belonged to one William Rae McDonald of Edinburgh, born c. 1844. This intriguing piece of evidence invites further research into the movement of this manuscript from later medieval Paris to twentieth-century Georgia by way of Scotland.

The group who studied the calendar with the goal of determining the liturgical use of the manuscript had great success. I had suspected the manuscript was Use of Paris, based on the presence of Genevieve in the calendar and the suffrages. The calendar group established not only that my surmise was correct, but that the calendar is explicitly affiliated with Sainte-Chapelle, the thirteenth-century royal chapel by Louis IX (later St Louis) to house his many relics of the Passion. The calendar includes feasts distinctive to Sainte-Chapelle (such as the translation of St Louis’s head in May); it is also thoroughly graded for full liturgical use in a religious community, and this grading aligns with other calendars from Sainte-Chapelle. Yet the calendar is not a standard Sainte-Chapelle production, for it includes anomalous saints such as Fiacre, Adomnan, and Signus, among others. Fiacre also appear in the suffrages, so further research must be done into the significance of these saints. Additional unanticipated figures include Martha (29 July; explicitly labeled as Christ’s hostess in the calendar) and Lazarus (17 December). Taken alongside the expected presence of Mary Magdalene (22 July), these two unusual biblical saints may hint at the owner’s particular affection for this kinship and their semi-apocryphal stories. The suffrages demonstrate a similar interest in family lines; prayers for Anne, Mary Cleophas, and Mary Salome (Mary’s mother and apocryphal half-sisters) appear together, evincing interest in Jesus’s matrilineage.

Each group has established the texts contained in the Hargrett Hours – discoveries that have generated more questions than they have supplied answers. As they originally reported in their interim blog report, the research group assigned to investigating the Hours of the Virgin discovered through extensive trial and error that they had, instead, the Hours of the Passion. This realization not only revealed that we were missing more of the manuscript than I had originally anticipated (we have not yet calculated the probable number of missing quires for the absent Hours of the Virgin), but that we were looking at a manuscript characterized by a particular focus on the Passion of Christ. The Hours of the Passion are followed by lengthy gospel passage, John 18-19, which begins with Judas’s betrayal of Christ and ends with his burial, as well as a series of seven prayers (six Latin, one French) on the cross and the passion. The initial research done by the two groups assigned to these sections suggests that this extended cluster of material focused on the Passion is not common. The Hours of the Passion appear in other Books of Hours, of course, as do other Passion-focused prayers and scriptural passages, but so far this grouping of texts (especially the full two chapters from John) is distinctive. More research will better contextualize this text grouping within the landscape of fifteenth-century Books of Hours, but it does seem that this is a “special” aspect of the Hargrett Hours. On a perhaps related note, the suffrages include prayers for each of the twelve disciples (except, oddly, Andrew) — to include a rare suffrage for Mathais, the disciple chosen to replace Judas. How far does this focus on the twelve disciples complement the passion sequence? I don’t know – but perhaps the next group of students will find out.

What is left to do? A fair bit of clean-up work, for one. We need to establish how many hands are at work in the manuscript (two seems to be the students’ standard assumption, but that needs to be verified.) There are a number of seventeenth-century French marginal writings that need to be properly transcribed and translated. The text contained on the messy quires immediately following the calendar needs to be firmly established so we can better understand the damage and repair done to that part of the manuscript. While we know which saints appear in the suffrages, we need to determine exactly which suffrage texts are used and how common those are. There are several French vernacular prayers to be better identified and translated. And, as I indicated above, the connections with Sainte-Chapelle, the cluster of Passion material, and the anomalous saints all need to be better understood.

But we are in a position to know exactly what we do NOT know about the book (as opposed to two months ago, when our ignorance was complete). And that’s a wonderful position to be in.

So a final word of thanks from me to all my students who worked their butts off on this project all semester: y’all did astounding work.

I’ll be mothballing this blog for the next few months, except as plans materialize for integrating STEM technologies into next fall’s curriculum or for re-designing the Fall 2017 class toward cataloguing the Hargrett Library’s manuscript fragments. There’s much more work to do on UGA’s medieval manuscripts, so stay tuned for future developments!