Depicting Devotion: Illuminated Books of Hours from the Middle Ages

Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections, St. Louis, Winter 2001-2001

Table of Contents
Books of Hours
I Calendar
II Gospel Lessons
III Hours of the Virgin
IV Hours of the Cross
V Additional Prayers to the Virgin
VI Hours of the Holy Spirit
VII Penitential Psalms
VIII Office of the Dead
IX Accessory Texts
X Peacocks and Eggs

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Section VI: Hours of the Holy Spirit

Acts of the Apostles describes the following scene:

And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak (2:1-4)

Pentecost means 50 days in Greek; it signifies the time between the Resurrection and what came to be the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. At this moment the Holy Spirit, represented iconographically as a dove, descended upon the disciples and tongues of fire appeared over the apostles' heads. Acts lists Mary as one in the upper room, and many illuminations give her the seat of prominence. In some she even teaches or reads from a book.

Pentecost scene MS 8
Probably Parisian, late 15th C., could be ca. 1490s
very standard late 15th C. style, stylistically similar to work of Jean Bourdichon
17.5 cm. by 11.7 cm, BX2080/L75/late 15th C.

The apostles surround Mary, who sits with a book in her lap, as tongues of fire seem to leap from the dove. The two-tiered structure of the illumination may represent the upper room where they awaited the descent of the Holy Spirit.

MS 10
Probably Flemish, (1st-) 2nd quarter of the 15th C.
very eccentric artist
22.5 cm. by 16 cm., BX2080/R5/15th C.

Mary stands out amongst the apostles. The architectural archway envelops the apostles and Mary as golden rays descend upon them. Unlike the other images shown here, neither the dove nor the tongues of fire appear; the image is familiar enough that even without the dove or tongues, Pentecost is well understood.

Pentecost scene MS 6
Paris ca. 1450
possibly the work of a follower of the Bedford Master
20 cm by 13 cm, BX2080/R72/ca. 1450


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