Fol. 184v

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Jean Poyer

St. Francis: Stigmatization of Francis
Border: Francis in the Fiery Chariot

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. 184v)
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. Francis: Stigmatization of Francis
Border: Francis in the Fiery Chariot (fol. 184v)

A great deal is known about the life of Francis of Assisi (118–1226), the founder of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans). As a youth he led the life of a carefree cavalier, but a year spent as a prisoner of war in Perugia (1201) and a subsequent serious illness changed Francis's values, leading him to become a monk devoted to the care of the poor and lepers. In 1210 the saint, with a dozen followers, traveled to Rome, petitioning Pope Innocent III to establish his new order, the brotherhood of poverty. The order was created and grew rapidly.

On 14 September 1224, while on retreat at Mount Alvernia, Francis prayed that he might feel with his own body the agony of Christ on the Cross and was rewarded with the stigmata, which he hid from others until his death. The event, appropriately, occurred on the feast day of the Exaltation of the True Cross. Francis died two years later; he was canonized by Pope Gregory IX (r. 1227–41) in 1228.

The miniature shows the moment of stigmatization. Francis kneels in prayer on a mountaintop before the apparition of a seraph who folds his wings to form the shape of a cross. Five rays project from the angel, marking the saint in the same places as Christ's wounds (as also shown in the left border of fol. 5v).

Francis wears the gray habit of his order with a cord for a belt. The knotted belt is a reminder of the cords that bound Christ; the three knots symbolize the three Franciscan virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

At the left is one of the three monks who went with Francis to the mountaintop but slept through the event.

The grisaille scene depicts an obscure miracle—derived from Elijah's chariot of fire—that was popularized during the fourteenth century. Francis, concerned that his monks had been lax, appeared to them in a floating fiery chariot, reminding them tofollow his rules of poverty and humility. The apparition awakens the monks, some of whom are still befuddled by sleep; two in the right rear, however, kneel in prayer. (Feast day: October 4)