MS H.8, fols. 190v–191r

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St. Barbara: Decapitation of Barbara

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. 190v–191r

St. Barbara: Decapitation of Barbara
Border: Barbara Before Her Tower (fol. 190v)

Legend has it that Barbara was the daughter of an Eastern governor, Dioscurus of Heliopolis, who imprisoned her in a two-windowed tower so that no man could see her. Seeking religious fulfillment she wrote to the Church father Origen (ca. 185–ca. 254), who sent his disciple Valentine to instruct her. Disguised as her doctor, he gained access to the tower and eventually baptized her.

Poyer depicted the two shepherds who saw Barbara fly up to a mountain, where they kept their sheep, and betrayed her. At their feet, their flock of sheep, through divine retribution, were transformed into insects. (Feast day: formerly December 4)

Dioscurus handed his daughter over to the Proconsul Marcian for torture, but she steadfastly refused to renounce Christianity. Out of anger and frustration, the governor dragged his daughter by the hair to the mountaintop and cut off her head.

When her father was away on a trip, Barbara had workmen add a third window—in honor of the Trinity—in her tower. Upon his return, she told her father that the three windows symbolized the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who had illuminated her. Furious, Dioscurus forced her to take refuge at the top of her tower, from which angels carried her away to a secret hiding place.