MS H.8, fols. 169v–170r

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St. Jerome: Jerome in Penance

Hours of Henry VIII
Illuminated by Jean Poyer

France, Tours
ca. 1500
256 x 180 mm

Gift of the Heineman Foundation, 1977

MS H.8, fols. 169v–170r

St. Jerome: Jerome in Penance (fol. 170)

As is common in Books of Hours, the final component of the Hours of Henry VIII includes a series of prayers, known as Suffrages, seeking favor from various saints. The well-educated St. Jerome, considered the most learned of the Latin Church fathers, was born around 342 in the small town of Stridon in Dalmatia.

In Antioch St. Jerome decided to retire as a hermit in the Syrian Desert, where he suffered temptations of the flesh. In a letter to his friend Eustachium, he recounted how in the heat of the sun, with no other companions besides scorpions and wild beasts, he imagined Roman maidens dancing before him.

To avoid the temptations of his lascivious imagination, St. Jerome threw himself amid thorn bushes before a crucifix, beat his breast (the rock was a later medieval invention), and fled into the wilderness for four years.

One evening, according to a legend, as Jerome sat within the gates of his monastery, a lion entered, limping in pain. The saint removed a thorn from its paw, tending the lion's wound until it healed. The beast became one of the saint's attributes.

St. Jerome
St. Jerome was sent to Rome as a youth to study the Greek and Latin classics with the pagan grammarian Donatus. Baptized and later ordained as a priest, Jerome made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In 382 he returned to Rome, where he produced the standard text of the Latin Bible (the Vulgate) before moving to Bethlehem, founding a monastic settlement of contemplative hermits with St. Paula (the Hieronymite Order). Although Jerome was never a cardinal (the office did not yet exist), he is depicted as one. Here the cardinal's cloak and hat lie on the ground so we can see his hair shirt. Images of the penitent Jerome in the wilderness originated in Pisa during the late thirteenth/early fourteenth centuries.

St. Jerome Beating His Breast
The motif of the saint beating his breast with a stone—which first occurs in a fourteenth-century panel in Pisa (Galleria San Matteo)—was adopted in the north at the end of the fifteenth century. Scenes of Jerome in the wilderness also afforded the artist an opportunity to explore nature, landscape, and wildlife—features exploited by Poyer. (Feast day: September 30)

Suffrages (fols. 170v–93)
Suffrages, prayers to saints seeking favor or support (also called Memorials), are frequently the last component in a Book of Hours. Petitionary or intercessory in nature, they normally consist of four elements: the first three, an antiphon, versicle, and response, make up a string of praises; the fourth part is a longer prayer (oratio) specifically dealing with some aspect of the saint, along with a request for God's aid through the saint's intercession. Many of these elements are quotations or extractions drawn from the Church's official liturgical texts found in the Breviary, which contained the rounds of offices recited by the clergy during the year, or in the Missal, which contained the Masses. The collect from the Mass and Office (Lauds) of St. Nicholas (6 December), for example, served as the Oratio for his Suffrage (fol. 182v); a translation of the entire suffrage follows.

Antiphon. Nicholas, friend of God, when invested with the episcopal insignia,
        showed himself a friend to all.
Versicle. Pray for us, blessed Nicholas.
Response. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Oratio. O God, you adorned the pious blessed Bishop Nicholas with countless
        miracles; grant, we beseech you, that through his merits and prayers, we
        may be delivered from the flames of hell. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The justification and efficacy of such petitions to the saints had already been established by the fourth century and were unequivocally reaffirmed in the thirteenth century by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa theologica. In raising the question if one should pray to God alone, he referred to Job (5:l), where Eliphaz exhorted him to call upon some of the saints; to show that the saints in heaven could indeed pray for us Aquinas also quoted Jerome: "If the apostles and martyrs while yet in body can pray for others, how much more now that they have the crown of victory and triumph." In asking if prayer to greater saints was more acceptable to God than to lesser saints, Aquinas said it was sometimes more profitable to pray to a lesser saint, since some saints were granted special patronage in certain areas, such as St. Anthony against the fires of hell. Moreover, he added, the effect of prayer depended on one's devotion, and that could be greater for a lesser saint. Aquinas also alluded to another common custom of the Church to support his conclusions, the recitation of the Litany of saints (a practice dating back to the fourth century). It is the celestial hierarchy of saints in the Litany, moreover, that provides the basic ordering of the Suffrages in Books of Hours. Indeed, in the present manuscript, all of the Suffrages are illustrated, forming a kind of pictorial Litany (albeit a very selective one). After the Three Persons of the Trinity comes the Archangel Michael, followed by John the Baptist (our future intercessor at the Last Judgment). Next are the Apostles, male martyrs, confessors (male nonmartyr saints), female martyrs, and widows. The series concludes with All Saints. (It may be of interest to observe that the first five female saints precisely follow the order in which they appear in the manuscript's Litany.) The idea of placing large miniatures of the saints above the Suffrages, with other scenes from the life of the saint in different colored grisailles in the lower borders, brings full circle the page layout of the Calendar and Gospel Lessons at the beginning of the manuscript. The number of Suffrages in Books of Hours can vary greatly, and each is not always illustrated; the series of twenty-four in the present manuscript is particularly rich and bespeaks of a fairly wealthy patron. The placement of Jerome at the beginning of the Suffrages is highly unusual. His position here may have been intended to link Jerome with Pope Gregory, the Church Father who was believed to have written the previous text (Seven Prayers of St. Gregory). In addition, Jerome's Suffrage, as is clear from the translation below, emphasizes his role as a teacher rather than as a penitent.

Antiphon. I shall liken him to a wise man who built his house on rock.
Versicle. The Lord led the just man in right paths.
Response. And showed him the kingdom of God.
Oratio. O God, who didst vouchsafe to provide for thy Church blessed Jerome,
thy confessor, a great doctor for the expounding of the Sacred Scriptures, grant,
we beseech thee, that through his merits we may be enabled, by thine assistance,
to practice what by word and deed he hath taught us. Through Our Lord Jesus
Christ thy Son, who liveth and reigneth, God, with thee, in the unity of the Holy
Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Since the accompanying picture of Jerome in Penance is, like the Mass of Gregory, a full-page miniature (all of the other Suffrages are half-page miniatures with historiated borders), it could be seen as a kind of frontispiece for the Suffrage section. In any case, Jerome and Gregory were both Latin Doctors of the Church, and both miniatures focus on the crucified body of Christ. Codicological evidence and the rubric for the Suffrage (De sancto Ieronimo) would indicate that the present placement was intended, suggesting that Jerome had some special significance for the patron. Pictures of Jerome in Penance became increasingly popular at this time: a similar image by the Master of Claude de France, for example, was inserted in the 1510s to Poyer's Hours of Mary of England, probably by King Louis XII when he had the book remodeled for his last wife.