The Book: Books in the Medieval Liturgy

Learn about the ornate liturgical books used in medieval cathedrals and monasteries, and their purpose in the Middle Ages.
This course is archived
Estimated 3 weeks
1–2 hours per week
Instructor-paced
Instructor-led on a course schedule

About this course

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When we think of liturgy today, we imagine short, formal, congregational events happening periodically within the confines of churches. Medieval liturgy, however, took up many hours of every day, filled the city's largest meeting halls, and even spilled onto the streets. At the center of the medieval liturgy were the books we will study in this course.

In this module of _The Book: Histories Across Time and Space, _we’ll explore and explain the beautiful service books of the medieval church. No prior knowledge of liturgy or Latin is required, but there will be a lot of both, along with music.

The medieval services consisted of a complex system of cycles, and the liturgical books correspond to the various functions of the people who used them: Laypersons, nuns and monks, readers, singers, priests, and bishops.

We will explore and examine these precious objects using materials from Harvard’s collections. Close examination of various types of books will help to explain the complex and collaborative nature of medieval worship. Ultimately, we will learn how these beautifully adorned books represent the importance of liturgy as an essential function of society in the Middle Ages.


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At a glance

  • Language: English

What you'll learn

Skip What you'll learn
  • A general understanding of the medieval liturgy and its place in medieval society
  • Liturgical spaces and music in the Middle Ages
  • The various purposes of liturgical book used in the mass, office and for special occasions
  • How liturgical books reflect the complex and collaborative nature of medieval worship

About the instructors