MS M.917/945, pp. 234–235

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St. Matthias

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. 234–235

Matthias was chosen by the other apostles to fill the spot left vacant by Judas Iscariot, following his betrayal and subsequent suicide. The apostle stands on scalloped tiles in front of a green backdrop rich with floral decoration. The white turban may reflect his role as a preacher of the Gospel in Ethiopia. The axe is the instrument of his martyrdom: after surviving a stoning in Jerusalem, he was beheaded with an axe. The weapon is seen again in the borders, where three swastikas are comprised of four axes each.


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