Treasures of the Special Collections

Open book with the bookplate of Swansea Training College on the front endpaper and the signature of Jane Austen on the first page

Discover the historical treasures housed in our Special Collections.

During the late Middle Ages, Books of Hours were the standard books of popular devotion in western Europe [1]. From the 13th century, they replaced the psalter as the most popular prayer books for secular use [2]. From the late thirteenth to the early sixteenth century, more Books of Hours were produced than any other single type of book, including the Bible [3]. Wieck attributes their popularity to two factors: - the desire of the laity to imitate the clergy but with a simpler book than the breviary, and the growing cult of the Virgin Mary [3]. The books are mostly small and portable.

Although the contents of Books of Hours varied, the core component was the eight services making up the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They were intended to be said at particular points in the day, and were modelled on the Divine Office recited by the clergy [1]. In addition, Books of Hours commonly include a Calendar showing feasts and saints’ days (lacking in the Boddam Hours), extracts from the Gospels, short Hours in honour of the Cross and of the Holy Spirit, the Seven Penitential Psalms with litany and collects, the Office of the Dead, and special prayers to the Virgin, the Holy Trinity and various saints. Recital of these was believed to minimize the time spent in purgatory by the owner or their loved ones [2]. The text is normally in Latin, although one or two popular vernacular prayers may be included [1].

Pictures were an intrinsic component of Books of Hours, with even modest productions normally extensively decorated or illustrated. The programme of illustrations tended to be relatively standardized. As ever, the scale and quality of the illustrations were governed by the price paid by the customer [1]. However, such is their beauty that Wieck compares them to Gothic cathedrals of prayers and pictures [3].

Initially a Book of Hours was a huge luxury, a work of art ordered to taste and purchased at a high cost. However, during the fifteenth century, changes in manuscript production and in the structure of northern European society brought them within the reach of people outside the nobility. Scribal shops began to put out considerable numbers of mass-produced copies, affordable for merchants, shop owners and lesser rural landowners [3].

The Lampeter manuscript of the Office or Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary was written in Normandy for use in the diocese of Rouen towards the end of the fifteenth century [4]. As with breviaries and missals, Books of Hours may often be distinguished by the diocese whose forms and precepts they follow [5]. Hewerdine speculates that more than one artist may have been involved, although with one overall planner [4]. The owner is thought to have been the woman who is represented in the picture of the Virgin and child on f.68r [ill.13]. Hewerdine describes the book as of good quality, although not of the higher class of production [4].

The manuscript was in the possession of Charles Boddam, of Trinity College, Cambridge in 1782 (inscription dated ‘June 1st 1782’). Boddam graduated in 1783 and seems to have worked in Bengal, becoming Joint Collector of the revenue of the provinces ceded by Tippoo. He died in 1811 [4]. His Book of Hours was subsequently acquired by Thomas Phillips of Brunswick Square, London (a major benefactor to the library) who presented it in 1846.

The manuscript includes, in addition to the text of the Hours of the Virgin, fourteen pictures within architectural frames, six of which are full page. These images are reproduced in the following exhibition.


  1. Backhouse, J. Books of Hours. London: British Library, 1985
  2. Sutton, K. Book of hours or horae. In: Brigstocke, H. (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Available from:  [Accessed 6 December 2017]. 
  3. Wieck, R.S. Time sanctified: the book of hours in medieval art and life. New York: George Braziller in association with the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1988
  4. Hewerdine, C.V. A study of the hours of Charles Boddam. MA thesis. University of Wales, 1981
  5. Beal, P. A dictionary of English manuscript terminology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Available from:  [Accessed 6 December 2017]
  6. Hewerdine, C.V. Symbolic decoration in a fifteenth-century Book of Hours. Trivium 1983; 18: 49-54
  7. Panofsky, E. Studies in iconology: humanistic themes in the art of the Renaissance. New York: Harper & Row, 1962
  8. Salzman, L.F. Some notes on shepherds’ staves. Agricultural history review 1957; 5 (2), 91-94
  9. Sill, G.F. A handbook of symbols in Christian art. London: Cassell, 1976
  10. [10] Bodleian Library. MS Buchanan e.3. Available from  [Accessed 6 December 2017]
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