MS M.917/945, pp. 218–219

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St. John the Evangelist

The Netherlands, Utrecht
ca. 1440
7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm)

Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963

MS M.917/945, pp. 218–219

John was an extraordinarily resilient saint. According to tradition, he is the only one of Christ's apostles to live a full life and die of old age. As we see here, however, it was not for lack of trying on the part of his persecutors. In the large miniature, the youthful John, standing on a black-and-white striped floor in front of a richly decorated green and gold background, holds a golden chalice that he blesses with his right hand. A tiny black dragon crawls up from the dregs, thus ridding the cup of the poison that constituted this particular attempt on his life. Below, with hands clasped, John prays inside a cauldron of boiling oil into which he has been thrown by the Emperor Dometian, an attack that he also survived.


Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help. While the Virgin became, as the Mother of God, almost a goddess herself, saints retained more of their humanity and thus their approachability.


Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern