Fol. 179

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Jean Poyer

St. Sebastian: Sebastian Shot with Arrows, Abandoned by Archers
Border: Sebastian's Body Cast into the Sewer

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. 179)
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: 

St. Sebastian: Sebastian Shot with Arrows, Abandoned by Archers
Border: Sebastian's Body Cast into the Sewer (fol. 179)

During the late Middle Ages, Sebastian was usually depicted as a handsome, beardless youth, bound to a stake and pierced with arrows, his eyes looking heavenward. From the fifteenth century on he was nude (or nearly so).

Poyer's muscular Sebastian, his eyes turned upward, and clothed in a loincloth, is based on an Italian model. (Feast day: January 20)

In the lower margin two men dump Sebastian's shrouded body into the sewer. To the right a figure leaning on his staff, probably the emperor, oversees the operation, while at the left three Christians, including the matron Lucina, wait to reclaim the body.

St. Sebastian
According to legend, Sebastian was born in Gaul and raised in Milan. Although a Christian, he joined the Roman army in 283, rising to captain in the Praetorian Guard under Emperor Diocletian. Sebastian clandestinely assisted and consoled imprisoned Christians in addition to converting and baptizing other soldiers and civilians. His own religious convictions remained a secret until the tortures inflicted on his Christian friends Marcus and Marcellinus so infuriated him that he publicly proclaimed his faith. He was then condemned to die as a target for archery practice. After the attack a pious widow, Irene, claimed the body but discovered that Sebastian was still alive. She nursed him back to health, and he returned to the palace to confront the emperor. Diocletian promptly ordered Sebastian beaten to death and the body dumped into the Cloaca Maxima, the main sewer of Rome, preventing Christians from preserving and venerating it as the relic of a martyr. On the following night, however, the saint appeared to a Roman matron, St. Lucina, revealing the location of his body, which was subsequently retrieved and interred in the catacomb on the Appian Way.