Leaves of Gold: Treasures of Manuscript Illumination fron Philadelphia Collections
Exhibition GalleryLearning CenterAbout the Project

The Gallery
BIBLES: Introduction | Gallery Guide
BOOKS OF HOURS: Introduction | Gallery Guide
PSALTERS: Introduction | Gallery Guide
LITURGICAL: Introduction | Gallery Guide
LITERARY: Introduction | Gallery Guide

Full exhibition checklist (text only)


Introduction to Liturgical Manuscripts

FLP Lewis E 236, fol. 144v
Historiated Initial E with David playing bells. Free Library of Philadelphia, Rare Book Department, Lewis E 236, fol. 144v.

Attending church services during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was a regular event for most people. Priests led worshipers through all the feasts and celebrations of the church year, beginning with Advent and Christmas and continuing through Easter, Pentecost, and the various saints' days. To complete this annual cycle, priests needed a sequence of specially arranged prayers, psalms, and readings.

For the performance of the Mass and other religious services they used many books written in Latin, including missals, breviaries, graduals, and antiphonals. The combination of prayers and readings used in these services were known as liturgies and the books containing them as liturgical books. Priests were among the first members of European medieval society to become literate since they used these books every day.

The choir, comprised of members of the religious community, accompanied the Mass by singing responses, hymns, and chants from books of music. Often elaborately decorated and ornamented, these choir books were usually quite large so that a number of people could sing from them simultaneously. To have all the music necessary for an entire liturgical year, many volumes of musical texts were needed.

gallery guide | view first manuscript


Leaves of Gold is a collaborative exhibition organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries. All materials on this site are copyright 2001 the Philadelphia Museum of Art except as indicated herein.