Fol. 94v

Primary tabs

Jean Poyer

Hours of the Cross: Christ Carrying the Cross

Hours of Henry VIII, in Latin
Illuminated by Jean Poyer

France, Tours
ca. 1500
256 x 180 mm

The Dannie and Hettie Heineman Collection; deposited in 1962, given in 1977

MS H.8 (fol. 94v)
Item description: 

Illuminated around 1500 by the artist Jean Poyer, The Hours of Henry VIII receives its name from the possible but unproven eighteenth-century tradition that holds King Henry of England once owned this splendid manuscript. By following the simple instructions, you can explore every painting of this Renaissance masterpiece and learn how Books of Hours helped their readers to pray.

Books of Hours contain more or less standard texts—Calendar, Gospel Lessons, Hours of the Virgin, Hours of the Cross, Hours of the Holy Spirit, Penitential Psalms with Litany, Office of the Dead, and Suffrages—as well as a number of common accessory prayers. Based on the frequency and variety of added devotions, it appears that scribes included these for owners who wished to personalize their prayer books.

Page description: 

Hours of the Cross: Christ Carrying the Cross (fol. 94v)

Since the Hours of the Virgin stress her role in the Incarnation and their cycle of miniatures traditionally illustrate the Infancy of Christ, it is not surprising that the Hours of the Cross (fols. 95–101), which emphasizes his Passion, should frequently, as here, come next.

Although it is usually the Crucifixion rather than the Carrying of the Cross that marks the beginning of the Hours of the Cross, the latter is sometimes,though more rarely, encountered.

Carrying of the Cross
In the miniature, Christ, slightly bent by the weight of the Cross, looks out at and gently draws the beholder to him. He is still wearing the purple robe that was placed on him when he was mocked as the king of the Jews. Reflecting a later pictorial tradition, Christ is assisted by Simon of Cyrene. The third ingredient, the agonizing pair of the Virgin and John (not mentioned in the biblical texts), is a prominent feature of later meditational literature that emphasized their compassion. Passion plays and the Stations of the Cross, which were encouraged by the Franciscans and became popular at the end of the fifteenth century, also contributed to the iconography.

Hours of the Cross
The Hours of the Holy Spirit are almost always paired with and proceed from the Hours of the Cross, just as Christ promised the Apostles at the Last Supper that the Father would later send the Holy Spirit to teach them all things (John 14:26) and that the latter's power would come upon them (Acts 1:4).

The two Hours are much shorter than the Hours of the Virgin and follow the same sequence, except that there is no Lauds. Each Hour consists of two pairs of versicles and responses, a "Gloria Patri" followed by an antiphon, a short hymn with a versicle and response, and a prayer (there are no lengthy psalms). The opening versicles and responses are identical to those in the corresponding Hours of the Virgin, beginning with the familiar "Domine labia mea aperies" (Lord, thou shalt open my lips). The different hymns for each Hour of the Cross form a chronological meditation on the Passion of Christ. The Matins hymn, for example, treats his Betrayal and Arrest. It begins with the words "Patris sapiencia":

Circled by his enemies,
By his own forsaken,
Christ the Lord at Matin Hour
For our sakes was taken:
Very Wisdom, Very Light,
Monarch long expected,
In the garden by the Jews
Bound, reviled, rejected.

The following hymns, in turn, deal with Christ before Pilate (Prime), his Crowning with Thorns (Terce), Crucifixion (Sext), death (None), Deposition (Vespers), Entombment (Compline), and an invocation for Christ's comfort at the time of the reader's death. Each of the hymns originally formed an eight-part poem, perhaps composed in the twelfth century, which connected Christ's Passion with the canonical Hours.

As with the Hours of the Cross, the hymns for each of the separate Hours of the Holy Spirit were also taken from a poem ("Nobis sancti Spiritus"), the eight parts of which are thematically related to the Holy Spirit: the Incarnation (Matins), redemption through Christ's Passion (Prime), Pentecost (Terce), proselytization by the Apostles (Sext), qualities of the Holy Spirit (None), the Holy Spirit as Protector (Vespers), the Last Judgment (Compline), and a stanza asking the Holy Spirit for aid in achieving eternal salvation in heaven.

Since the standard illustration for the Hours of the Holy Spirit is Pentecost, an event that the Golden Legend placed at the Hour of Terce, we have translated the Terce hymn here:

God his Holy Spirit sent to his Apostles dear,
On the day of Pentecost to yield them gladsome cheer,
And with fiery tongues in them did ardent zeal impress:
By no means could he endure to leave them comfortless.