medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Today (23. February) is the feast day of:
1) Polycarp of Smyrna (d. ca. 155 or ca. 166). One of the leading figures of early Christianity, the apostolic father P. was an elder of the church of Smyrna (today's Izmir in Turkey) who in time became its bishop. He was a disciple of St. John (which one is not clear), a correspondent of St. Ignatius of Antioch, and a teacher of St. Irenaeus of Lyon. According to Jerome, his Epistle to the Philippians was still being read in church services in around the year 400. Late in life P. visited Rome during the pontificate of St. Anicetus. In his great old age he was martyred at Smyrna along with other members of his church.
A largely credible account of P.'s martyrdom survives in the _Martyrium Polycarpi_ (BHG 1556-60). This circulated both separately and, in slightly abbreviated form, in Eusebius' _Historia Ecclesiastica_ (4. 15) and was also available in Latin in Rufinus' translation of Eusebius as well as in at least one independent Latin translation. Directly and indirectly through imitators it had an enormous influence, both in form and in its details, on many other Passiones. P.'s late antique Bios by pseudo-Pionius (BHG 1561), on the other hand, is utterly untrustworthy.
Until at least the early 1950s P. was venerated at a structure on Mount Pagus, in Izmir but outside of old Smyrna, known as the Tomb of St. Polycarp. An old-photograph view is here:
The first two bishops of Lyon, Sts. Pothinus and Irenaeus, were disciples of P., who consequently has long been honored in France. Herewith two medieval witnesses to that particular veneration:
a) The Abbaye de St.-Polycarpe, founded ca. 780, at Saint-Polycarpe (Aude), near Saint-Hilaire:
The abbey church, which is dedicated to the BVM, dates from the eleventh century; when it was raised to its present height is unknown:
b) The sarcophagus of St. Andeolus. A. is the legendary apostle of the Vivarais; according to his largely fictitious Vita (BHL 423), he was sent out from Smyrna by his bishop, P. His church at Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche) holds an ancient sarcophagus that was reworked in the early twelfth century to house his putative remains and which on its then newly carved side bears an identifying inscription flanked by representations of St. Benignus of Dijon (legendarily, A.'s superior on this mission) at left and of P. at right:
In the _Martyrium Polycarpi_ P. is sentenced to be burned alive; when the flames leave him unscathed he is stabbed to death. In this fifteenth-century illumination (ca. 1470) from a French-language version of the _Legenda Aurea_ (Mâcon, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 3, fol. 143r) he appears first to be stabbed while flames surround him and then to be beheaded:
2) Romana, venerated at Todi (d. early 4th cent., supposedly). According to her Vita (BHL 7296), R. was the Christian-influenced daughter of a Roman city prefect. To avoid marriage and thus preserve her virginity, she secretly left her home and fled with angelic assistance to Mount Soracte. There she found pope St. Sylvester escaping persecution by hiding in a cave (the standard legend, familiar from the Donation of Constantine), prostrated herself before him, and sought baptism. Marvelling at R.'s angelic appearance (_nam_ -- we are told -- _decor animi, dignitatem quamdam eximiam corpori affundebat_), the refugee pope granted her wish.
R. -- so saith the Vita -- then headed off in the direction of the Umbrian town of Todi but soon settled down in a set of caves where she lived in isolation for several months, subsisting on plant food and on water. The odor of her sanctity wafted on to Todi, some of whose Christians came out and formed a little eremitical community around her. R. died there at the age of sixteen, on a 23d of February in some year during the reign of Constantine. Her parents came out from Rome and buried her on the site, where her cult continued to be maintained.
Baronio entered R. in the RM on the basis of a copy of her Vita sent to him from Todi. In composing her elogium he used a form of words that generalizes slightly from an inscription at her monastery church on Mount Soracte identifying the spot where R. was baptized by Sylvester, lived a celestial life, and was noted for miracles. That monastery, at today's Sant'Oreste (RM) in Lazio, is now a ruin. Various views of it may be found on these pages:
In 1301 remains said to be R.'s were translated to Todi and deposited, along with those of other early Tudertine saints, in its Franciscan church of San Fortunato. Various views of this pile (begun in 1292) are here:
3) Mildburg (d. early 8th cent.). We know about M. (also Milburg, Milburga) chiefly from the so-called _Kentish Royal Legend_ (_Þá hálgan_; between 725 and 974) and other Old English texts of the Mildrith Legend and from the perhaps authentic charters preserved in the "Testament of St Mildburg" preserved in her later eleventh-century Vita (BHL 5959) attributed to Goscelin of Saint-Bertin. A daughter of a sub-king of the Magonsæte in today's Shropshire and Herefordshire and of his queen, a member of the royal family of Kent, she was sister to St. Mildrith (Mildreda), abbess of Minster-in-Thanet. In the 670s or 680s she became abbess of the double monastery founded by her father at today's Much Wenlock in central Shropshire. The charters show M. acquiring other estates for the monastery.
St. Boniface's Epistle 10 (dated to 716), which recounts the visions of the Monk of Wenlock, calls the abbey there the _monasterium Milburge abbatiss(a)e_. This formulation has been taken to indicate that M. was still alive at or close to the time of the letter's composition. When M.'s cult began is uncertain. She is already a saint in the _Kentish Royal Legend_ and her resting place at Wenlock is listed in the eleventh-century Old English resting-place list _Secgan be pam Godes sanctum pe on Engla lande terost reston_. The abbey at Wenlock was re-founded as a Cluniac priory in the later eleventh century and in 1101 remains believed to be those of M. were miraculously discovered in Wenlock's then ruinous church of the Holy Trinity (the predecessor of the present one), whence they were translated to the nearby priory church.
Two sets of views of the remains of the twelfth-century church of Wenlock Priory:
Views, etc. of Much Wenlock's originally twelfth-century parish church of the Holy Trinity:
Much Wenlock sits at the northern end of Wenlock Edge, along with the Long Mynd one of the two lengthy elevations that dominate central Shropshire's extraordinarily attractive rural landscape.
4) Willigis (d. 1011). W. was a canon of Hildesheim whom Otto II made his chaplain and then advanced to head of the imperial chancery. In 975 he became archbishop of Mainz. In 983 and 1002, respectively, W. crowned Otto III and St. Henry II king of the Germans. A gifted orator and ecclesiastical administrator, he is best known for initiating the construction of Mainz's cathedral of St. Martin that was destroyed by a fire in 1009 (in Mainz this is the millennial Jubilee Year of W.'s cathedral). Two illustrated, English-language accounts of its successor, consecrated in 1036, are here:
And an illustrated, German-language one is here:
W.'s death only a couple of years after the fire, when there was as yet no new cathedral, caused him to be buried instead in Mainz's church of St. Stephen. Herewith some views of that since much rebuilt church:
5) John Theristes (d. 11th cent.). This less well known saint of the Regno was an Italo-Greek whose family lived at Cursano, a town near Stilo in the Locride, the strip of territory running along Calabria's southernmost Ionian coast. Muslim raiders killed many of the town's inhabitants, among them J.'s father, and enslaved J.'s mother, who was already pregnant with him. Born in Muslim Sicily and secretly brought up as a Christian, at age fourteen J. managed at his mother's insistence to return to Calabria, where he became a monk and worked various miracles. The latter included bringing in by himself a large harvest before a suddenly arising thunderstorm could spoil it. Hence his appellation 'Theristes' (or 'Theristis'), signifying 'Harvester'. The monastery that he founded at today's Bivongi (RC) was after his death named in his honor and perpetuated his cult.
J.'s Bios survives in two versions (BHG 894, 894a) elaborating a now lost predecessor reflected in eleventh-century canons (long hymns) in his honor by Leo of Stilo and by Bartholomew of Rome. In its present forms it is variously thought to have been written either in the twelfth century or in 1217/18 and to have been rewritten not long after the latter date, probably to document some possessions of J.'s monastery when the latter was re-chartered under Frederick II. Two early modern Latin translations, both rather free (but the one in the _Acta Sanctorum_ is considerably more so), underlie many modern accounts of J. More trustworthy is Silvano Borsari, ed. and tr., "Vita di San Giovanni Terista", _Archivio storico per la Calabria e la Lucania_ 22 (1953), 13-21 ("Introduzione") and 135-51 ("Testi"). A relatively recent, Italian-language critical survey of the hagiographical tradition is here:
In the Latin church, J.'s feast day used to to be 24. February. The RM now lists him (without the appellation 'Theristes') for today, his traditional date in Greek churches. At the monastery at Bivongi, overseen since February 1995 by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy, his feast day continues to be the 24th.
An illustrated, Italian-language page on the monastery is here:
A somewhat closer view of the monastery church (Greek: katholikon; Italian: cattolica), begun in the late eleventh century and restored in the early 1990s:
The more recent portions to the left are the remains of the cloister.
Other views of the church:
View of a side wall showing old and new construction:
An Italian-language description of the monastery's architecture (particularly that of the church) is here:
And here's the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All Holiness Bartholomew I, during a visit in March 2001.
(Polycarp of Smyrna, Romana ven. at Todi, and John Theristes lightly revised from last year's post)
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