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The Ferrara Hours: Teaching Medieval Europe in Special Collections at Lewis & Clark

May 29, 2020

Watzek Library

Lewis & Clark College has a strong record of teaching that relies upon the medieval and early modern works housed in Special Collections produced during this moment. This year, thanks to the Breslauer Foundation Grant and to Professor Karen Gross for collaboration on our application, we have acquired a Book of Hours produced in the Italian city of Ferrara in the late fifteenth century, a moment when several of the most severe outbreaks of plague ravished the city. This volume is crucial to rounding out not just our collection but all local collections of medieval liturgy, so that we may construct fuller narratives about book production and use, devotional life, and the history of scripture in the West. In particular, this Book of Hours represents the only Mediterranean Book of Hours held in the greater Portland area, allowing us to extend our discussion of Medieval religious practice and literary production into Southern Europe.

This is an exciting volume. As with other medieval volumes in our collection, its text is easily accessible to students, even if in Latin, due to its standardization; widely-available modern editions of Book of Hours’ prayers and sequences mean that undergraduates can quickly understand the sometimes esoteric content and its variations. The Ferrara Hours holds some unusual contents as well, including an indulgence from Pope John XXII and some later-added prayers. These elements illustrate for students how books of hours were customized by owners. The indulgences are especially interesting next to another Book of Hours held in our collection - this one printed and owned by Englishmen - as indulgenced images in that book were vandalized by a later, presumably Protestant, reader.

The Ferrara Hours strengthens our existing curriculum in countless ways. The past few years have demonstrated to us again and again that students’ curiosity ignites when they are in study with old books, when the gap between them and the past is partially bridged through touch. Manuscripts and incunabla teach our students firsthand that a material text is an already-interpreted text. Special Collections has become a center of interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty, of student research and practica, and of community outreach for our College. Acquisition of the Ferrara Hours propels us further in these accomplishments.

Read more about the Ferrara Hours here.


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