Fol. 101v

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Jean Poyer

Hours of the Holy Spirit: Pentecost

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. 101v)
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.

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Hours of the Holy Spirit: Pentecost (fol. 101v)

Pentecost, or the Descent of the Holy Spirit, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (2:1–4), took place in a house where the disciples met on the Jewish feast of Pentecost. After a sound like a mighty wind came from heaven there appeared to them "parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them." They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and were given the ability to speak in diverse tongues. Poyer, in a well- established tradition, depicts the power of the Holy Spirit as golden rays emanating from a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit.

The Virgin is surrounded by Apostles, who are again twelve in number, Judas having been replaced by Matthias. The two Apostles in the foreground are the youthful John (left) and Peter.

The dove, which has a cruciform halo, is directly above the Virgin, who is often included in the scene, though her presence is not specifically mentioned in the Acts. Such writers as St. Odilo of Cluny (ca. 962–1049) simply assumed her presence; linking Pentecost with the earlier descent of the Holy Spirit that brought about the Incarnation, he argued that it would have been impossible to exclude her.

Feast of Pentecost
In the Middle Ages, the Christian feast of Pentecost (from the Greek word meaning "fiftieth day") was celebrated on the fiftieth day after Easter, just as the Jewish Pentecost was celebrated fifty days after Passover. As Easter is in proximity to the Jewish Passover, there was a correspondence made between the two Pentecosts. The Jewish Pentecost commemorated Moses' reception of the Law, while the Christian feast instituted the Church and thus the New Law. The analogy was made, for example, in the Biblia pauperum (a late medieval typological treatise), where the two events were paired; according to the accompanying text, "Just as the law was given to Moses and was written on tables of stone, so, on the day of Pentecost, a new law was written in the hearts of the faithful collected together when the fire appeared above them."