Fol. 175

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Jean Poyer

Sts. Peter and Paul: Fall of Simon Magus
Border: Decapitation of Paul and Crucifixion of Peter

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. 175)
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: 

Sts. Peter and Paul: Fall of Simon Magus
Border: Decapitation of Paul and Crucifixion of Peter
(fol. 175)

According to the Apocryphal Acts of Peter, there was a sorcerer in Jerusalem named Simon Magus who proclaimed himself the source of truth and promised immortality to his believers. He confronted Peter to prove that he was God, but the Apostle refuted and exposed him. So the sorcerer went to Rome and gained Nero's support. Simon called the people together and declared that he was offended by the presence of Peter and Paul in the city; he threatened to abandon Rome and ascend into heaven.

Even without attributes, it is possible to distinguish between Peter and Paul by their appearance. Peter traditionally has a square, bald head with a short rectangular beard and Paul a bulbous forehead, narrow chin, and a long beard. (Feast day: June 29)

Climbing a tower, Simon Magus rose in flight, while Nero accused the two Apostles of being imposters. Peter, pointing out the flying sorcerer to Paul, cried out, "Angels of Satan, who hold this man up in the air, in the name of my Master Jesus Christ, I command you to hold him up no longer!" As shown in the miniature, they obeyed and Simon promptly plunged to his death. The disgruntled emperor then cast the two saints into prison, condemning them to death.

In the border Poyer illustrated the Decapitation of Paul and Crucifixion of Peter. Although their executions did not occur at the same location, they are often depicted together, as in this margin, since they happened (and are thus commemorated) on the same day.

Simon Peter, another fisherman turned Apostle, was known as the "rock of the Church." The Gospels record Christ's words to him, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it; I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven." These words are also the source for Peter's attribute, a large key. One of the three apostles who witnessed Christ's Transfiguration, he traveled to Antioch after the Resurrection and preached the Gospel until A.D. 42. Peter was the first bishop of Rome and suffered martyrdom there. Nero ordered his crucifixion on 29 June 64, in his circus below Vatican Hill. Considering himself unworthy to die as Jesus had, the saint insisted upon being crucified head downward.

Paul, formerly a Greek-Jewish tent maker named Saul, was a strict Pharisee and persecuted the young Christian Church fanatically until an apparition of the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus converted him. After he returned to Rome, he was beheaded by Nero on the road to Ostia, on the same day as Peter's martyrdom.