The face defaced

In this Book of Hours we find the scratched heads of saints, angels, and even at one point of Christ the Redeemer. Some of this damage followed the orders made under Henry VIII to remove offending references to the cult of Thomas Becket. The royal proclamation issued from Westminster on 16 November 1538 commanded ‘that his ymages and pictures, through the hole realme, shall be putte downe, and avoyded out of all churches, chapelles, and other places; and that from henseforthe, the dayes used to be festivall in his name shall not be observed, nor the service, office, antiphoners, colletes, and prayers, in his name redde, but rased and put out of all the bokes’. On this opening, which contains prayers for the feast of Thomas Becket, unusually for this manuscript, the text is defaced. The scratching of the face here and in other images may post-date the Henrician orders, and could reflect the deeper iconoclasm during the ‘Second Reformation’ under Edward VI during the 1540s. By now iconoclasm attached to the Eucharist, the subject of this image. The damage to the saint’s face is slightly odd: does it suggest perfunctoriness, or is it rather an indication of a routine and even banal suspicion of images, also shown by the random violence demonstrated even to the figure of Christ? BC

Horae (Flemish for English use, late fifteenth century).

LPL: MS 496, fo. 54v

Further Reading

Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge, 1991), ch. 5.

Extended captions