Christianity in 10 objects
This private Christian prayer book is over 500 years old. It’s not a printed book like the ones we have today. This one has been written by hand, so it’s one of a kind. It’s been decorated with gold leaf, which catches the light, so it’s called an ‘illuminated’ manuscript. Only wealthy, well-educated medieval Christians would have had a book like this. For these Christians, the prayers and devotional writing, all written in Latin, would have been used to help them pray privately. You can see beautiful illustrations of key passages of the Bible and it was all personalised to the owner, in this example a portcullis and a red rose, symbols of the Tudors.
This prayer book belonged to a very important woman. Lady Margaret Beaufort was the mother of King Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, which explains why her prayer book is decorated with the famous Tudor symbols. She asked the monks to say prayers for her every day at the Abbey and may have used the book when she lived at the Abbey for a short while before her death. She is buried in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey, a chapel paid for by her son.
Lady Margaret Beaufort’s prayer book reminds us how important private prayer is for Christians. In the quiet moments of private prayer, one way a Christian can develop a relationship with God is by using the set prayers in the book. Although this object has a clear purpose to guide private prayer, it is also an exquisite, personalised treasure for a woman who lived over 500 years ago. What was once a private object is now a public example of private prayer.
Visit the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries to see the prayer book of Lady Margaret Beaufort and many more objects, in real life. High above the Abbey floor, come face to face with the Abbey’s greatest treasures covering over 1,000 years of faith and history. Along with worship, examine objects that teach us about the building of Westminster Abbey, its role in national memory and its relationship with royalty.
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It’s a privilege to live and work here – the Abbey really is the heart of the country and its history.