Books in the Medieval Liturgy

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Overview

When we think of liturgy today, we imagine short, formal, congregational events happening periodically within the confines of churches. Medieval liturgy, however, took up many hours of every day, filled the city's largest meeting halls, and even spilled onto the streets. At the center of the medieval liturgy were the books we will study in this course.

In this module of The Book: Histories Across Time and Space, we’ll explore and explain the beautiful service books of the medieval church. No prior knowledge of liturgy or Latin is required, but there will be a lot of both, along with music.

The medieval services consisted of a complex system of cycles, and the liturgical books correspond to the various functions of the people who used them: Laypersons, nuns and monks, readers, singers, priests, and bishops.

We will explore and examine these precious objects using materials from Harvard’s collections. Close examination of various types of books will help to explain the complex and collaborative nature of medieval worship. Ultimately, we will learn how these beautifully adorned books  represent the importance of liturgy as an essential function of society in the Middle Ages.

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