Fol. 190v

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Jean Poyer

St. Barbara: Decapitation of Barbara
Border: Barbara Before Her Tower

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. 190v)
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. Barbara: Decapitation of Barbara
Border: Barbara Before Her Tower (fol. 190v)

Legend has it that Barbara was the daughter of an Eastern governor, Dioscurus of Heliopolis, who imprisoned her in a two-windowed tower so that no man could see her. Seeking religious fulfillment she wrote to the Church father Origen (ca. 185–ca. 254), who sent his disciple Valentine to instruct her. Disguised as her doctor, he gained access to the tower and eventually baptized her.

Poyer depicted the two shepherds who saw Barbara fly up to a mountain, where they kept their sheep, and betrayed her. At their feet, their flock of sheep, through divine retribution, were transformed into insects. (Feast day: formerly December 4)

Dioscurus handed his daughter over to the Proconsul Marcian for torture, but she steadfastly refused to renounce Christianity. Out of anger and frustration, the governor dragged his daughter by the hair to the mountaintop and cut off her head.

When her father was away on a trip, Barbara had workmen add a third window—in honor of the Trinity—in her tower. Upon his return, she told her father that the three windows symbolized the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who had illuminated her. Furious, Dioscurus forced her to take refuge at the top of her tower, from which angels carried her away to a secret hiding place.