MS H.8, fols. 184v–185r

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St. Francis: Stigmatization of Francis

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. 184v–185r

St. Francis: Stigmatization of Francis
Border: Francis in the Fiery Chariot (fol. 184v)

A great deal is known about the life of Francis of Assisi (118–1226), the founder of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans). As a youth he led the life of a carefree cavalier, but a year spent as a prisoner of war in Perugia (1201) and a subsequent serious illness changed Francis's values, leading him to become a monk devoted to the care of the poor and lepers. In 1210 the saint, with a dozen followers, traveled to Rome, petitioning Pope Innocent III to establish his new order, the brotherhood of poverty. The order was created and grew rapidly.

On 14 September 1224, while on retreat at Mount Alvernia, Francis prayed that he might feel with his own body the agony of Christ on the Cross and was rewarded with the stigmata, which he hid from others until his death. The event, appropriately, occurred on the feast day of the Exaltation of the True Cross. Francis died two years later; he was canonized by Pope Gregory IX (r. 1227–41) in 1228.

The miniature shows the moment of stigmatization. Francis kneels in prayer on a mountaintop before the apparition of a seraph who folds his wings to form the shape of a cross. Five rays project from the angel, marking the saint in the same places as Christ's wounds (as also shown in the left border of fol. 5v).

Francis wears the gray habit of his order with a cord for a belt. The knotted belt is a reminder of the cords that bound Christ; the three knots symbolize the three Franciscan virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

At the left is one of the three monks who went with Francis to the mountaintop but slept through the event.

The grisaille scene depicts an obscure miracle—derived from Elijah's chariot of fire—that was popularized during the fourteenth century. Francis, concerned that his monks had been lax, appeared to them in a floating fiery chariot, reminding them tofollow his rules of poverty and humility. The apparition awakens the monks, some of whom are still befuddled by sleep; two in the right rear, however, kneel in prayer. (Feast day: October 4)