What “Use” is it? A Book of Hours rightfully restituted to the Walloon city of Mons

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 10/52

Book of Hours, Use of Mons, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 89, fol. 1r (beginning of the Hours of the Virgin)

The “Use” in a Book of Hours generally refers to the specific, regional variants found in the central devotional text, the Hours of the Virgin. Because these variants are often specific to a city or region in Europe, determining the “Use” of a Book of Hours can, at least in theory, help us determine where the book was intended to be read and prayed from. This can be helpful information indeed when faced with a Book of Hours that otherwise has no ownership or localization information! Use can be determined by comparing the Antiphon and Chapter readings for two of the Hours of the Virgin–Prime and None–to lists established by scholars on the basis of firmly-situated manuscript Books of Hours or early printed editions, most actually printed in Paris, that nonetheless state explicitly for which town they were meant to be used. 

Because our understanding of “Use” has evolved and improved over time, it is important to double-check information asserted by scholars in the past. The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Lewis E 89 is a well-used and quite plain Book of Hours of circa 1400, previously catalogued as being of the Use of Châlons-sur-Marne in the Champagne region of France.  However, the particular combination of Antiphons and Chapters in the Hours of the Virgin is equally valid for Mons, in present-day Belgium, and thus the book is more likely identifiable as being produced in the diocese of Mons. Moreover, its litany includes local saints Ghislain (fol. 94v), and Waldetrudis, (fol. 95v). The same saints are included in a two-folio fragment of a folio now in Montreal (McGill University Library, Rare Books and Special Collections, Ms. 99).

Lewis E 89, fols. 94v and 95v (litany with Saints Ghislain, left, third line from bottom; and Waldetrudis, right, second line from top)

As the inscription on folio 1r attests (illustrated at the top of the post), the book was owned in the 17th century by the Jesuit College at Louvain, further bolstering the Wallonian provenance. This Jesuit institution was suppressed in 1778 and many of its volumes went to Louvain’s university library, which itself was partially looted during the Napoleonic wars. Other volumes made their way into the Royal Library of Belgium in Brussels, and many are noted as coming from Louvain in a manner similar to ours (i.e. “Collegii societatis Jesu Lovanii”). The rest of Louvain’s university library was, of course, tragically destroyed by German forces in the First World War.