MS H.8, fols. 69v–70r

Download image: 

Vespers: Massacre of the Innocents and Flight into Egypt

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. 69v–70r

Vespers: Massacre of the Innocents and Flight into Egypt (fol. 69v)

While the Massacre of the Innocents is less common than the Flight into Egypt as the Vesper illustration, Poyer managed to include both. As the slaughter takes place in the foreground, the Holy Family departs for Egypt in the background—as can be seen through the stone ruins.

Two mothers futilely attempt to keep their children from soldiers, while a woman on the left wails uncontrollably over her dead baby. The Holy Innocents were regarded as the first martyrs, and their feast day (three days after Christmas) was already celebrated by the early Church.

Massacre of the Innocents
Following his unique account of the Adoration of the Magi, Matthew continues the narrative (2:13–18) with the Flight into Egypt and the Massacre of the Innocents. Herod, learning that a future ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem, ordered the slaughter of all male children two years old and younger living in or near Bethlehem. An angel had already appeared to Joseph in his sleep, telling him to take Jesus and his mother to Egypt until the death of Herod. (Biblical scholars, including Matthew, have recognized that the Massacre and Flight provided the pretext for the fulfillment of Hosea's prophecy [Hosea 11:1] that, like Moses, the Messiah would come up out of Egypt.)