The Hours of Henry IV of France


St Mary the Egyptian carrying three loaves and garbed in nothing but her long, thick hair, f. 88v

St Mary of Egypt is depicted in the suffrages of the saints dedicated to women in front of a small late-Gothic building, possibly the hermitage she lived in, against the backdrop of a landscape representing the far removed place where she spent her atonement. The saint is naked apart from the long blond hair covering most of her body and she holds three loaves. According to the legend – attributed to Sophronius, the bishop of Jerusalem, and made popular in the Middle Ages by Hildebert, the bishop of Le Mans, and Jacobus da Varagine – she was an Alexandrian courtesan who, after living a debauched life for seventeen years, repented and retired to the Transjordan desert to do penance. A stranger gave her three denarii and she bought the three loaves on which she fed for sixty years. Over the years, after her clothes fell apart, her long hair covered her body, giving her the iconographic appearance of a wild woman that can be seen in the image. The text begs to her to intercede for the forgiveness of the sins of the book of hours’ owner.

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