The Office of the Dead (f.99) from the Belles Heures of Jean de Berry. French, c. 1405-9. The Cloisters Collection. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (CC0 1.0)
Today is the last installment of 31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts. I hope everyone has enjoyed seeing and reading about all these beautiful books over the past month! I will miss constantly living in the world of medieval manuscripts, but I’m also really looking forward to having time to read and sleep and things like that.
I’ve had today’s post planned for quite a while, both because of its appropriateness for today and because I’m highly interested and reasonably knowledgeable about it. The Office of the Dead is a selection of prayers to be performed for the benefit of deceased souls in aid their passage into Heaven. The office was typically included in books of hours, frequently accompanied by some pretty creepy illustrations. I first became interested in Office of the Dead imagery while studying the Belles Heures of Jean de Berry. I wrote a pretty cool paper about the bizarre and largely-inexplicable illustration at the beginning of the Belles Heures‘s Office of the Dead (see the top-most image).
Along the way, I found that there are a lot of other types of scenes that often illustrate Office of the Dead prayers in books of hours. These include funerals and funeral masses, representations of legends like the Three Living and the Three Dead, and scenes of graveyards and animated skeletons in varying degrees of creepiness. In my opinion, however, none are quite as strange as the illustration from the Belles Heures. Why are there two skeletons in the same grave, and what are they doing?
I don’t have any version of the paper I wrote online, though now that I think about it, I probably should. However, I did have a lot of fun writing “Creepy Medieval Manuscripts – Death, Demons, and Decapitation” for Headstuff.org last year. I can’t think of a more perfect topic to end 31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts on Halloween night.