Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Pages of Prayer: The Ecosystem of Vernacular Prayer Books in the Late Medieval Low Countries, c. 1380-1550 [PRAYER]

This project investigates the full ecosystem of Middle Dutch prayerbooks in order to answer questions about their role in – and impact on – religion, culture, and society in the late medieval Low Countries.

2023 - 2028
Anna Dlabacova
European Research Council (ERC) European Research Council (ERC)
Book of Hours (in the translation attributed to Geert Grote) and Prayer Book, c. 1460-1470, Leiden, University Library, ms. LTK 292

Vernacular prayer books were by far the most commonly read book in the late medieval Low Countries. The mainstay of this vast corpus is the Book of Hours in the translation by Geert Grote (c. 850 manuscripts and c. 30 printed editions), founder one of the period’s most powerful religious reform movements. Nowhere else outside the Netherlands do so many manuscript and printed editions of this type of prayer book survive in the vernacular. These books are fundamental for our understanding of religiosity, and of textual and visual literacy between 1380 and 1550 – a period that saw dramatic changes in the religious landscape and in book production.

‘Pages of Prayer’ sets out to conduct the first large-scale investigation of this unique corpus and vibrant phenomenon by introducing a new approach – network philology – that studies all aspects of vernacular prayer books in their mutual interdependence. The project aims to chart the entire ecosystem of Dutch-language prayer books – including manuscripts, printed books, texts, images, producers, owners, patrons, places, devotions, and the interconnections between all of these aspects – over a long period of time by combining network analysis with qualitative analysis to reach meaningful interpretations of the data.

The nature of the material requires this research to be tackled within an interdisciplinary project. The first step toward network philology is the set-up of a data model specifically designed to study relationships within the corpus. All team members will subsequently contribute to the acquisition of data and the digital network analysis. Sections of the ecosystem will be further analyzed in work-packages that focus on the production and reception of manuscripts, the poetics of prayer, the function of images, and changes and continuities in relation to religious movements and the advent of print. The project aims to yield an integrative understanding of the role of prayer books in the late medieval Low Countries on the threshold of the medieval and early modern era.

Book of Hours printed in Delft in July 1484 by Jacob Jacobszoon van der Meer. This copy contains owners’ inscriptions and pen flourishes added by hand. Copy: München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 4 Inc.c.a. 364.
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