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St Andrews University buys rare 15th-century prayer book

A rare 15th-century prayer book, often dubbed the bestseller of the Middle Ages, has been acquired by a university.

The University of St Andrews said the text, known as a Book of Hours, will be a "very valuable addition" to its cultural resources.

The book was owned by a wealthy member of French nobility and is full of hand-painted illuminations in gilt and colours which still sparkle with vibrancy.

A Book of Hours is a religious manuscript containing a calendar with the feast days of various saints, extracts from the Gospels and prayers - including those undertaken by professional religious men and women at particular times throughout the day, such as matins in the morning and vespers in the evening.

Believed to date from around 1470 to 1500, the French text appears to have never been owned by a Scot and was not made for use in the UK.

It has been acquired by the University of St Andrews' library's special collections division and was bought from Christie's.

Dr Julian Luxford, head of the school of art history at the university, said: "The Book of Hours makes a very valuable addition to the university's cultural resources. It will be useful for teaching and research in equal measure.

"Past experience shows that students respond very enthusiastically to such objects and it is especially nice to be able to produce this manuscript alongside our English fifteenth-century Psalter, with its very different characteristics."

The small size of the book indicates it was designed for private rather than public use and as it uses the vernacular for the saints' names, it is likely it was created for a lay person rather than a churchman.

Highlights of the book include the feast days written in vernacular French rather than Church Latin using coloured lettering of red, blue and gold.

The distinctive feature of St Ursin, the first bishop of Bourges, being prominently inserted indicates the book was ordered by someone in Bourges in France.

The great cost of commissioning, probably specially-trained monks, to skilfully hand paint the illuminations as well as the detailed calligraphy suggest the book was owned by a very wealthy individual.

Although the book appears never to have been owned by a Scot, similar books manufactured in Rouen in Normandy were bound for Scotland.

There are two in the V&A Museum in London and a similar text, also made in Rouen and created for a Scottish woman living in Bourges, is currently in the British Library.

The university would not comment on how much it paid for the book.

Members of the public can arrange to view the book in the Richardson research library at Martyrs Kirk by contacting speccoll@st-andrews.ac.uk.

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