Fol. 181v

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Jean Poyer

St. Adrian: Martyrdom of Adrian
Border: Christians in Prison

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. 181v)
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. Adrian: Martyrdom of Adrian
Border: Christians in Prison
(fol. 181v)

The miniature shows Adrian's two-part martyrdom. He is seated on the anvil, his intestines having already fallen out, as two executioners begin to hack off his legs. Adrian looks heavenward, while in the background Natalia prays contentedly; the emperor, at the left, directs the torture.

Adrian (or Hadrian) was a young Praetorian Guard in Nicomedia under Emperor Maximian (r. 286–305). The soldier was converted by witnessing the steadfast confidence of a group of Christians under torture. Impressed by their constancy, he asked to be counted among their ranks. Needless to say, Adrian was promptly arrested and imprisoned. His new wife, Natalia, (a secret Christian) was overjoyed, ran to the prison, and encouraged him to remain firm in his new faith, kissing his chains. When he learned the date of his impending martyrdom, the saint convinced the guards to allow him to tell his wife so that she could witness the event.

On the day of his death (ca. 300), Adrian was first beaten so severely that his "bowels fell out." After he was returned to prison, the emperor ordered that the legs of all the imprisoned martyrs be broken on an anvil and cut off. Natalia, who was present, additionally requested that the guards cut off her husband's hands, so that he would be equal to other saints who had suffered more. After Adrian's death Natalia managed to get away with a hand (holding it to her bosom), taking it with her to Argyropolis, where she died peacefully.

In the margin a jailer guards the imprisoned Christians who prompted Adrian's conversion. (Feast day: September 8, the translation of his relics to Rome)