medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Today (22. September) is the feast day of:
1) Phocas the gardener (?). P. is a famous early martyr of whom, like so many early martyrs, very little is actually known. Our first account of him, the fourth-century Asterius of Amasea's _Homily 9_, tells us that P. was born at Sinope in Pontus (today's Sinop, about halfway along Turkey's Black Sea coast), that he lived as a rustic gardener outside a gate of that city, and that, though poor, he was generous in his hospitality. During an unspecified persecution, agents of the Roman state arrived at P.'s house looking for P., whom they intended to slay as he was a known Christian. But they didn't know what he looked like. P. offered them hospitality and promised that on the following day he would point out to them the man they sought. The agents accepted this offer. While they slept P. dug his own grave.
On the next day P. revealed his identity to his guests and asked them to slay him quickly. Overcoming their initial amazement, the agents rapidly complied by decapitating him. Asterius adds that other places venerate P. and have sought some relics of him; further, that he is a patron of sailors, often seen by them at night when a storm has been expected.
The poor gardener or other small-farmer outside the city is familiar character in Hellenistic literature. And the association with sailors depends on the similarity of P.'s name with the Greek word for seal (the mammal), 'phokos'. All one can say about P. from Asterius' homily is that he was a martyr venerated at Sinope and elsewhere. According to Asterius, one of the elsewheres was Rome; according to John Chrysostom, another was Constantinople. Epigraphic and other evidence shows P.'s cult to have been widespread in the East from at least the fifth century onward. To judge from toponyms and other indicia from the Salentine Peninsula and from Calabria, it was also firmly rooted in Greek-speaking southern Italy. Symeon the Metaphrast adopted Asterius' account wholesale, thus reinforcing the megalomartyr P.'s popularity in the central and later medieval Greek and other Orthodox world.
An undated Greek Passio (BHG 1536, 1536c), later than Asterius, makes P. a bishop of Sinope martyred under Trajan. This highly legendary account spawned both a Latin Passio (BHL 6838) as well as matter in the historical martyrologies of Bede, Florus, and Ado, all entered under 14. July, the date provided by one of the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology's less informative entries, _alibi s. Focae episcopi_ ('elsewhere, St. Phocas the bishop'). P. was commemorated on this date in the RM until its revision of 2001, when he was moved to today in accordance with the Synaxary of Constantinople (which follows the Asterian account) and with Byzantine-Rite practice generally.
In the 1990s the appearance of mosaic fragments near Sinop led to the discovery of what are thought to be the remains of P.'s fourth-century major cult site. An announcement, with a view showing mosaic floors, is here:
and a follow-up from January 2003 will be found on this page:
Sinop is also the home of an originally sixth-century monastery. In the nineteenth century a portion of a _de luxe_ sixth-century Gospel manuscript was found there (Sinop, at least, if not the monastery; there's a story that a local tobacconist used it to wrap a purchase made by a visiting French naval officer) and subsequently found its way into France's Bibliothèque Nationale, where it is now ms. gr. 1286. Written in gold on vellum dyed in purple and often referred to as the Sinope Gospels, it is generally similar to the also sixth-century Codex Purpureus of Rossano but is thought to be slightly earlier. When it came to Sinop and where it was made (perhaps Caesarea) are not known. Two views of one of its illuminated pages are shown here (at bottom):
2) Maurice of Acaunus and companions (d. late 2d or early 3d cent., supposedly). Our first information about the soldier-saint M. comes from the _Passio Acaunensium martyrum_ (BHL 5737, etc.; multiple versions) ascribed to the early fifth-century St. Eucherius of Lyon. This account, whose earliest witness is of the seventh century, asserts that the late fourth-century bishop Theodore of Octodurum (today's Martigny in the Swiss canton of Valais north of the Great Saint Bernard) had had revealed to him the location at nearby Acaunus (today's Saint-Maurice in the same canton) of the bodies of M., the chief administrative officer of a military legion called "the Thebans", and others (a few of whom are named) of the same unit, which latter in its entirety had been put to death under Maximian for its refusal to abjure Christianity and in whose honor Theodore had erected at Acaunus a martyrial basilica adjacent to a cave in a cliff.
Blatant anachronisms have caused modern scholars to view the story of M. et socc. as fiction. Opinions differ as to whether the reported inventio, the building of the basilica, and the narrative's Eucherian authorship are also fiction. There is at least a fair probability that they are and that the whole is the foundation legend for the monastery at the site that existed in some form around the year 500 and that in 515 was re-founded by St. Sigismund, who in the following year became king of the Burgundians. Intermittent royal patronage coupled with reported miracles insured the cult's early medieval popularity in Gaul, reflected for example by M.'s mention in Gregory of Tours' _De gloria martyrum_, by the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology's listing for today of Maurice and his companions, and by Ado of Vienne's inclusion of them in his martyrology along with a version of their Passio.
In the ninth century the abbey became a canonry; in 1128 its canons adopted the Rule of St. Augustine. In the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries it experienced an upswing in its fortunes that has left such artistic monuments as this twelfth-century reliquary of St. Candidus (one of M.'s companions):
this twelfth- or thirteenth-century shrine for M.'s relics:
and the twelfth-century shrine for the children of St. Sigismund, bearing on one end one of the better known representations of M.:
An illustrated, English-language page on the abbey of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune:
A view of its originally eleventh-/twelfth-century belltower (restored after its collapse in 1942 when part of the cliff came down on the church):
In 937 Otto I established a monastery dedicated to M. at Magdeburg, where after her death in 946 his first wife, Edith (a daughter of the Anglo-Saxon king St. Edward the Elder) was laid to rest. In 951 Otto married into the Burgundian royal family and in 960 king Rudolf II presented him with relics said to be those of M. These were placed in Magdeburg's cathedral, founded by Otto after his victory over the Hungarians at the Lechfeld in 955 and also dedicated to M. (in 1363 a re-dedication upon completion of the nave added St. Catherine of Alexandria). Starting in the twelfth century M. had come to be thought of as a Moor; Magdeburg's cathedral has a relatively early visual example in this statue of M. from about 1260:
Some views of the cathedral:
Angers' twelfth- to fifteenth-century cathedral is also dedicated to M. A French-language account is here:
Two pages of expandable views begin here:
Other expandable views:
Some single views:
West portal, details:
Views of the glass windows are accessible here:
(last year's posts lightly revised)
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