Fol. 191v

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Jean Poyer

St. Martha: Martha Taming the Tarasque
Border: Martha Preaching

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. 191v)
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. Martha: Martha Taming the Tarasque
Border: Martha Preaching
(fol. 191v)

Martha was the sister of Lazarus and Mary Magdalene. After Christ's Ascension, they were set adrift in a boat, which was guided by an angel to Marseilles.

In Marseilles, according to legend, Martha overcame a dragon, the Tarasque, which had been terrorizing the people of Tarascon in Provence. Half- animal and half-fish, the monster slew passersby and sank ships. The people appealed to Martha for help. Armed with an aspergillum (a device to sprinkle holy water) and holy water bucket, she went after the dragon, which she found devouring a man.

After subduing the beast with holy water, as in the miniature, she bound it about the neck with her girdle and led it away to be killed. One man plunges a spear into its neck while another—at a considerably safer distance— aims his crossbow.

Martha, devoting herself to prayer and fasting, remained in Tarascon, where a great community of religious women grew up around her. One day, while she was preaching on the bank of the Rhône River near Avignon, her second famous miracle occurred.

A young man on the opposite bank was eager to hear her words. Having no boat, he attempted to swim across, but he was overcome by the current and drowned (as shown in the border). After the body was recovered, it was laid at the saint's feet so that she might revive him. In her prayer she asked Christ, who had raised her brother Lazarus to life, to do the same for the dead youth. Taking the young man by the hand, she caused him to rise at once, and he was baptized. (Feast day: July 29)