MS M.917/945, pp. 262–263

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Ten Thousand Martyrs and St. Acacius

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. 262–263

In this grisly miniature ten men represent ten thousand soldiers martyred at Mt. Ararat for their mass conversion to the Christian faith before a battle. They are in a variety of pained poses, impaled on the spreading branches of an acacia tree and wearing only loincloths and crowns of thorns on their heads. Legend holds that they were crucified, and this depiction of impalement may stem from a misreading of, or a play on, the name of their leader, Acacius. The saint himself stands at the right of the miniature incongruously wearing bishop's vestments despite his occupation of soldier (probably due to confusion with a different St. Acacius who was a bishop). A long scroll curling around the border bears the Apostles' Creed; it winds through portraits of the twelve apostles, who, in a trompe-l'oeil effect, peek from holes in the vellum cut into the shapes of white flowers. The Creed starts toward the upper right with Petrus (Peter) who is credited with writing the First Article, "Credo i[n] deu[m] p[at]rem o[mn]ipote[n]te[m] c[re]atore[m] celi et t[er]se" (I believe in Got the Father, Creator Almighty, creator of heaven and earth).


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