Fol. 188v

Jean Poyer

St. Catherine: Catherine Rescued from the Torture Wheels
Border: Decapitation of Catherine

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. 188v)
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. Catherine: Catherine Rescued from the Torture Wheels
Border: Decapitation of Catherine (fol. 188v)

According to the Golden Legend, Catherine was the daughter of King Costas of Cyprus. Renowned for her noble birth and education, she attracted the interest of the early- fourth-century Emperor Maxentius (r. 306–12) who wanted to marry her. She refused him, having chosen instead to become the "bride of Christ."

Catherine's steadfast refusal of the emperor led to the order for her execution. Two spiked wheels, which were to grind against each other, were constructed, and the saint was placed between them. She prayed to the Lord for the machine to fall to pieces so that his name would be praised and those who stood by might be converted. Instantly an angel struck thedevice with such violence it broke apart, killing her tormentors.

Believing he could force the young woman to apostatize, Maxentius gathered fifty prominent pagan philosophers in Alexandria to convince her of the errors of Christianity. Shesuccessfully refuted them and even converted the philosophers, who were subsequently executed. Catherine, however, was unharmed, as the emperor still lusted after her.

The spurned emperor ordered Catherine beheaded, the subject depicted in the margin. Maxentius, holding a staff, looks on as the executioner prepares to do his job (his sword is hidden by the text).

At her death, Catherine prayed to Jesus that "whosoever shall celebrate the memory of my passion, or shall call upon me at the moment of death or in any necessity, may obtain the benefit of thy mercy," increasing the popularity of her cult and ensuring the efficacy of her intercession. After Catherine's death, angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where it is preserved in the famous monastery that bears her name. (Feast day: formerly November 25)