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Books for Devotion: Modern Prayer Books

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Modern Prayer Books

The exhibition concludes with a selection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century prayer books. These are intended merely to suggest the great variety of the publications that have been made available for private prayer over the past two centuries. Some reflect older traditions, such as the medieval Book of Hours; others represent specific modern genres, such as prayer books published for use by soldiers on the battlefield; yet others explore the relationship of the functional prayer text to the book as a work of art in new ways. Particularly noteworthy for Methodists is Dr. Thomas O. Summers' Golden Censer, printed in 1859 for private use alongside John Wesley’s Sunday Service for American Methodists. In this book Summers offered more than 140 short prayers designed for all occasions from the New Year until Christmas, spanning all situations from childhood to death. The private prayers begin with a set of fourteen composed by John Wesley for children to recite in the morning and evening, along with several others for family and friends, and for before and after meals.

Other modern selections include one of the few surviving copies of Prayers and other devotions for the use of the soldiers of the Army of the Confederate States, published by the Female Bible, Prayer-Book, and Tract Society of Charleston, South Carolina (c. 1861–65); the British calligrapher Graily Hewitt’s beautiful illumination of the Litany on vellum (c. 1920), a prayer that goes back to the English Primer; and the fine limited edition of the French Psaumes de David (1979), illustrated with thirty original etchings by Marc Chagall. The final book in the exhibition is one of fifty copies of the Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes (1555–1626), printed in 1988 by W. Thomas Taylor at the Kairos Press in Austin, Texas. Bishop Andrewes, a principal translator of the King James Bible, originally compiled this collection of daily prayers and meditations in Greek, jotting passages from the scriptures and early liturgies into his notebook. Best known in the 1840 translation by John Henry Newman (reprinted in the present edition), this work will remain a classic of devotional literature for as long as prayers are heard.