Hours of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost (fol. 24)

The Hours of the Holy Spirit likely occupied a later position in the manuscript in its original state, after the Hours of the Cross, which in turn followed the Hours of the Virgin.  The theme of this Office is the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation, and therefore a representation of the Pentecost often introduced the cycle of prayers.  Pentecost refers to the post-Ascension episode described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-31), when the Holy Spirit descended on the followers of Christ, who were gathered together in a house in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which fell fifty days after Passover. Pentecost in the McVitty Hours follows the familiar format of placing the Virgin Mary at the group of kneeling men; this is the arrangement in Morgan manuscripts MS M. 2, fol. 124r.   MS M. 231, fol. 130v;  and MS M. 1093, fol. 102r.  The suggestion has been made that the prominent position of the Virgin, who is not mentioned in Acts, may imply an intended female readership, but we should note that the Virgin is also the central figure in books of hours made for the Duke of Berry.

Pentecost in the McVitty Hours is distinctive in two ways.  First, the room where Mary and Christ’s followers are gathered is not the usual quasi-ecclesiastical setting, but seems quite domestic, with the red fabric hanging behind the Virgin and bundled to each side suggesting the dosser and drapes of a well-appointed bed.  Indeed, we feel we are looking head-on at the bed we see from an angle in the Office of the Dead (fol. 135v).

The other noteworthy feature is the cycle of narrative vignettes set into rectangular frames in the right and lower borders of the Pentecost miniature.  Pentecost is the only illustration in the McVitty Hours to include narrative scenes in the border.  In this way it resembles Morgan MS M. 231, the work of a well-known artist now called “Chief Associate of Maître François” (active in Paris ca. 1480-1501), in which Pentecost is one of four folios that includes narrative episodes.  The marginal scenes differ in the two books of hours, for Morgan MS M. 231 features the Baptism of Christ, two scenes of St. Peter, and the Apostles setting forth to preach. The border scenes in the McVitty Hours have a different focus, and include three episodes devoted to Christ:  two post-Resurrection appearances, to Peter, and to all the Disciples, and also his Ascension, of the type that shows his lower legs and feet disappearing into a cloud.  Also included is the non-Biblical theme of the Death of the Virgin, a deathbed scene that shows her attended by the Apostles, who surround her with prayer, a paradigm for the desired death.  Expanded representations of the Hours of the Holy Spirit were not common, and it seems possible that a prospective owner might have selected the secondary scenes.

Catalogue entry by Nora Bolte.