The Script of Life

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The beautiful, decorative Dutch Breviary volumes displayed within this exhibit are an example of a common yet incredibly significant European religious text. During the late Middle Ages—the period in which both of these Breviary volumes were produced—religious following had declined in Europe, but there remained a significant number of groups that adhered to the traditional ways of Christianity. During this period, it was often believed that whether an individual would find their way to Heaven or not was dependant upon how avidly they had followed God in their life and whether they had sinned or not. In order to maintain a close relationship with their higher power, religious individuals throughout Europe sought a simpler means to follow God; breviaries were an example of a text that helped facilitate this goal.

These two Breviary volumes were produced in the Netherlands around circa 1450-1475; this was during the time immediately following Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. The advent of printing, coupled with the increase in literacy rates throughout Europe during this period, had resulted in a substantial increase in the publication of religious texts or other works of literature. 

The Breviaries published throughout medieval Europe were frequently used as tools to aid in Christian worship. They aided individuals or groups by providing psalms or prayers for daily usage at specific times, as well as guidelines to follow throughout each day and season. Indeed, as the breviaries on display demonstrate, medieval breviaries were published with one volume meant for summer use and one for the winter. Also found within the texts are numerous hymns which were generally utilized on symbolic holy days such as Advent. Thus, this text can almost be viewed as a "script of life", as it provided words to speak, hymns to sing, and informed the actions for medieval Christians to take in their everyday lives. 

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