Middle Age Reflections

Professor and undergraduate collaborate on examination of medieval prayer book

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Timothy Sullivan '00 came to Boston College with an interest in studying Latin and French, but he never dreamt it would mean poring through a medieval manuscript preserved in Burns Library - and co-publishing a book in the process.

Sullivan and Prof. Rebecca Valette (Romance Languages and Literatures) are the authors of Reflections On the Connolly Book of Hours , an examination of a prayer book used by lay men and women of the late Middle Ages. The illustrated volume offers a look at the historical, social and artistic milieu for books of hours in general, as well as the diverse and little-known devotional texts in this particular manuscript, which was named after the late University Librarian Terence Connolly, SJ, who was instrumental in building the special collections at BC.

Junior Timothy Sullivan and Prof. Rebecca Valette (Romance Languages). "This is not only a prime example of the benefits of faculty-undergraduate research collaboration," said Valette, "it also shows how one can use modern technology and methods to help fashion a new perspective of the old." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
But Valette and Sullivan added another facet to their project by inviting members of the Boston College community to contribute brief reflections on the Connolly Hours' 32 illuminated miniatures. The result, the authors say, is a scholarly work reaching not only across disciplines but also personal and spiritual dimensions.

"It is a book which speaks to the kind of community Boston College is," said Valette. "We had 32 people from many backgrounds and experiences who found the Connolly Book of Hours touched something within them, and expressed it in a variety of ways which together make for a fascinating portrait.

"A project such as this also is a way to put the treasures of Boston College in plain view," she added, "not only for the University community, but beyond it."

"One of the unique things about this book is its personal aspect," said Sullivan, a Leominster native studying French. "The administrators, faculty and students who contributed are making connections across the centuries with the people who originally owned this book."

Books of hours derive from the official service books of the Church, Valette and Sullivan explained, and at first were largely the domain of the wealthy nobility and clergy. With the increasing interest in prayer in the home and a growing awareness of the effects of art on private devotion during the late Middle Ages, books of hours became widely popular among lay people.

Created in 15th century France, themanuscript of the Connolly Book of Hours typifies many of that period, they continued, which provide very useful tools to study patterns of prayer and private devotion.

Reflections On the Connolly Book of Hours brings that idea to the modern era, Valette and Sullivan say. The main part of the book features illustrated details of the manuscript, with accompanying explanatory text written by Sullivan and a reflection by an individual contributor.

For example, the page on St. Anthony contains a brief section offering biographical information on the father of monasticism, whose intercession is sought in cases of epilepsy, pestilence and skin ailments. The reflection by Assoc. Prof. Betty Rahv (Romance Languages) discusses St. Anthony and the concept of progress, which he saw as "a quality which characterized every human being who would faithfully strive to live a virtuous life."

Seeing the crucifixion illumination, meanwhile, prompts Language Laboratory Director Cynthia Nicholson Bravo to write about the tradition of "waking" the deceased and recall the responsorial psalm sung at a friend's funeral. Artist-in-Residence Robert VerEecke, SJ, talks of the inspiration the adoration of the Magi has provided for "A Dancer's Christmas," the annual Robsham Theater production he has choreographed for nearly 20 years.

Other contributors include University Chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ, Vice President for Ministry and Mission Joseph A. Appleyard, SJ, Jesuit Community Rector Francis Herrmann, SJ, Prof. Pamela Berger (Fine Arts) and Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill. Assoc. Prof. Laurie Shepard (Romance Languages) also authored a section on French texts in books of hours.

Valette credits Sullivan, president of the BC chapter of the national French honor society Pi Delta Phi, as the "driving force" behind the project, which grew out of their discussions last year as to what activities the chapter might undertake. In addition to doing research, Sullivan also set up a World Wide Web site that allowed contributors to view the Connolly Hours illuminations and submit their entries.

"This is not only a prime example of the benefits of faculty-undergraduate research collaboration," said Valette, "it also shows how one can use modern technology and methods to help fashion a new perspective of the old."

Valette and Sullivan commemorated the official release of their publication last Friday at ceremony held in Burns Library, which also is displaying the Connolly Book of Hours until May 28.

Return to April 29 menu

Return to Chronicle home page