Leaf from a Book of Hours:
Initial V (Office of the Dead, beginning of Psalm 5), about 1460-1500
Austria(?) or Bohemia(?)
Ink, tempera, and gold on vellum
The Jeanne Miles Blackburn Collection [Cat. no. 60]
Every medieval book of hours contained a section known as the Office of the Dead. This office was usually inserted toward the back of the book following the penitential Psalms and litanies, which set a tone of contrition, penitence, and forgiveness of sin. The Office of the Dead was intended to be recited principally in the context of a funeral. Its texts, comprising psalms and other readings, consisted of the hour of vespers
(for recitation over the coffin the evening preceding a funeral mass), followed by matins and lauds (prayed the actual morning of a funeral mass). However, the office was undoubtedly also prayed by many medieval men and women in the privacy of a chapel or bedroom, as a reminder of mortality and as protection against sudden death. The very beginning of this page's text is the abbreviated Latin antiphon for matins: Dirige, D[omi]ne [Deus meus, in conspectu tuo viam meam] (Direct, O Lord my God, my steps in your sight). This is followed by the enlarged letter "V" for Verba mea auribus (Hear my words).