The Gift of the Word

The Miracle of the Word

The Christian belief in the power contained within the written word is shared by the Italian Book of Hours and the Armenian prayer roll.  While separated by centuries, language, and origin, the two hand-drawn, hand-written manuscripts share a common purpose.  Each was used by its owner as a means of personal prayer and devotion.

Personalized to reflect the requests of the owner, both of these illuminated manuscripts were highly valued and carried on the person.  It was believed that the contents of the book or scroll, including prayers, scripture, and sacred images, provided protective powers that shielded the owner from evil while bringing them salvation.  Both the Book of Hours and the Armenian prayer roll contain prayer requests directed to God through intermediaries.

The recto of the Book of Hours leaf contains a prayer in Latin and is specific to the liturgy of All Saints' Day.  Translated, the prayer reads, "...for we beseech Thee through the multitude of intercessors to grant the desired abundance of Thy mercy."

The text on the verso translates: "O cross, our only hope in this time of suffering, grant justice to the faithful and mercy to those awaiting judgement."

Illustrations on the prayer roll include traditional Christian intercessors, such as the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist, as well as those specific to Armenian theology such as Armenian Church patriarch St. Gregory the Illuminator.  An illustration of St. Nerses Shnorhali is followed by the prayer he authored in the twelfth century: "I Confess in Faith: Jesus wisdom of the Father, Grant me wisdom To think, speak and do the good in your sight at all times, Save me from evil thoughts, words and deeds, Have mercy upon your creation and me, a manifold sinner.  Amen."

Katherine Bass and Darcie Hart Riedner, Art History Seminar, Portland State University

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