medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Today (20. June) is the feast day of:
1) Methodius of Olympus (d. early 4th cent.?). Apart from his surviving writings, we have little reliable information about the theologian M. St. Jerome says (_De viris illustribus_, 83) that he was bishop of Olympus in Lycia (today's village of Cirali in Turkey's Antalya province), that he was later bishop of Tyre, and that he was martyred at Euboean Chalcis in a recent persecution. The information about M.'s having been bishop of Tyre is unlikely to be correct. That about his having been bishop of Olympus, though repeated by the ecclesiastical historian Socrates, could also be false. But it is widely accepted as factual. The _De sectis_ attributed to Leontius of Byzantium calls M. bishop of Patara, a designation subsequently adopted for him in Byzantine synaxaries.
Patara was anciently Lycia's chief port. Two illustrated, English-language pages on it (in the second, the gallery is at the bottom):
An aerial over view with links to subordinate pages on some of the excavated buildings:
M.'s _Symposium_ (a.k.a. _Banquet of the Ten Virgins_) and other writings place him in the later third century. Assuming that he was indeed a martyr -- this has lately been questioned --, he is likely to have perished in the Great Persecution (or just possibly in the Licinian persecution of ca. 320 if that really took place). Learned and cultured, M. was for a long time viewed primarily as an opponent of Origen. Lloyd Patterson's _Methodius of Olympus: Divine Sovereignty, Human Freedom, and the Life of Christ_ (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1997) offers other reasons for taking him seriously.
It is possible that the M. depicted in the upper of the two roundels shown here from the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (1330s) on the triumphal arch of the church of the Hodegetria in the Patriarchate of Peæ at Peæ in, depending on one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:
is today's M. and not his homonym the sainted patriarch and opponent of Byzantine second iconoclasm (14. June). Many of these roundels depict bishops of Constantinople and on this particular side of the arch the roundels immediately above M.'s depict two patriarchal victims of iconoclast purges. On the other hand, the roundel opposite M.'s depicts St. Ambrose, like M. of Olympus the author of a major patristic work on virginity.
2) Gobanus of Saint-Gobain (d. later 7th cent., supposedly). According to his legendary Vita (BHL 3569) the Irishman G. (in French, Gobain) was a disciple of St. Fursey, who ordained him priest. After his ordination he cured a blind man. Somewhat later Jesus Christ appeared to him in a vision and spoke the Latin text of Matthew 25:34, which latter invitation Fursey then took to mean that he and his disciples should leave their homeland and evangelize in Gaul. When they got to the Irish shore (the Vita knows naught of Fursey's stay in Suffolk) a tempest prevented them for three days from taking ship but was finally calmed by G. as he said Mass. When the party had crossed they went first to Corbie and from there they went on to their several places of missionary endeavor.
G. elected to work in Laon, where he cured two men, one blind and the other deaf. Word of this reached the king, who granted G. a place in a nearby wilderness for a hermitage. G. erected an oratory there, dedicated to St. Peter, and there, after a period of preaching to the people, he was murdered by barbarians more savage than Vandals. He was buried in his oratory, miracles occurred, and a cult arose. Thus far the Vita.
G. is the eponym of today's Saint-Gobain (Aisne) in Picardy. Its eleventh- to thirteenth-century church was badly damaged in World War I. Several expandable views of it in its ruined state occur here:
An expandable view of that church's crypt (taken in 1939) is here:
G.'s modern shrine in the town's church:
3) Adalbert of Magdeburg (d. 981). A. was a monk of St. Maximinus at Trier who served in the chanceries of the archbishop of Köln and of the emperor Otto I. In 961 he was made a missionary bishop to Russian Slavs but returned from that hostile environment rather quickly. After a few more years at court he was named abbot of Weissenburg in Alsace, where he wrote a continuation of the Chronicle of Regino of Prüm. In 968 A. was made archbishop of Magdeburg with the understanding that he would evangelize among the Sorbs (which he did). He was buried in his cathedral at Magdeburg.
4) John of Matera (d. 1139). Today's less well known saint of the Regno, the founder of the Pulsanese Benedictine congregation, was born in what was then the southwestern Apulian town of Matera. His Vita (BHL 4411) is thought to have been the work of the third abbot of his congregation's mother house, Santa Maria di Pulsano on the Gargano peninsula; not altogether surprisingly, it presents him as a gifted, model leader of a reformed, quasi-eremitic monastic community that combined personal austerity with public service in the form of preaching and good works.
J. is said to have formed his vocation while still a youth and to have entered religion at a monastery (identified by modern scholars as Basilian) at Taranto, where he was put to work tending sheep at an outlying locale. His experience there was not happy. Out of sympathy with the monks because of their fine dining and comforted by an inner Voice miraculously asserting that God was with him, he lit out on a passing boat for parts west. Perhaps too he was insufficiently bilingual, for the places he next went to, Calabria and Sicily, were after their Norman-led conquest in the eleventh century venues of Latin immigration and we are never told of any contact he may have had there with people identified as Greeks.
For about a decade J., sustained at times by his inner Voice, moved around as an hermit preacher in the deep south and, later, in Campania where enemies got him imprisoned for a crime of which he was innocent, thus paving the way for his Petrine release from prison, and where he later joined another latter-day apostle, St. William of Vercelli, in an eremitic community on a mountain near today's Bagnoli Irpino (AV). From there J. moved back to Apulia, where he preached for a while at Bari and then went north to the sanctuary of St. Michael on the Gargano and in about 1129 founded his monastery at Pulsano.
During his later career J. acquired a reputation as a thaumaturge. His congregation, which spread quickly in the twelfth century both in the south and in Tuscany, initiated his cult shortly after his death. Though Alexander III's confirmation in 1177 of the congregation and its possessions is silent about him, J. appears in martyrologies from the twelfth century onward as well as in various Offices. An altar in Matera's cathedral, which has had J.'s remains since 1830, is dedicated to him. Herewith two illustrated, Italian-language pages on that originally thirteenth-century building:
An illustrated, English-language account:
Two single views:
The Italia nell'Arte Medievale page on this church:
J.'s altar with its display reliquary:
Matera's rupestrian chiesa di San Giovanni da Matera, located in the Sasso Caveoso, is said to be an enlargement of the house in which J. was born. A ground plan of this church is here:
Two multi-page sets of views of the monastery of Santa Maria di Pulsano:
5) Margareta Ebner (Bl.; d. 1351). The South German mystic M. came from a wealthy family of Donauwörth. At the age of fiteen she entered the Dominican convent of Maria Medingen (a.k.a. Kloster Mödingen) at today's Mödingen (Lkr. Dillingen an der Donau) in Bavaria. Some years later M. became very ill, was bedridden for a dozen years, and continued to suffer physically afterwards. During her confinement she began to experience visits from God; at the behest of her confessor, Heinrich of Nördlingen, she kept a journal of these which became her _Offenbarungen_ ("Revelations"). We also have a book of her prayers, the _Pater Noster_. M. is buried in her convent's church. Her cult was confirmed papally in 1979.
The literature on M. is now rather extensive. A selection, limited to publications in English, is listed here:
6) Nicholas Cabasilas (d. prob. late 14th cent.). The theologian N. was born into a family of unequal prominence in Thessaloniki in about 1322. His father's family name was Chamaetos but he preferred to be called by that of his mother's family, one of whom, his uncle Nilus Cabasilas, was his early tutor and later succeeded St. Gregory Palamas as metropolitan of Thessaloniki, then the empire's second city. Nicholas finished his education in Constantinople and joined the imperial service under John VI Cantacuzenus. In 1347 he returned to Thessaloniki with Gregory Palamas for the latter's enthronement; when conditions prevented this he spent a year with Gregory at Mt. Athos. In 1353, while apparently still a layman, N. was one of the three nominees for election as patriarch of Constantinople.
In the next year, following the abdication of his imperial patron, N. left government service and entered Constantinople's monastery of St. George of the Mangana. By this time he had written some of his surviving work (e.g. the encomia of Thessaloniki's saints Demetrius and Theodora) but his major writings, the _Commentary on the Divine Liturgy_ and _On the Life in Christ_, belong to his later career. Recent readers of him have formed the impression that at some time he had been ordained priest. Letters from others to N. cease after 1391. The exact year of his death is unknown.
In 1526 N. was portrayed as a hierarch in the frescoes of the chapel of St. John the Forerunner in the Protaton church on Mt. Athos. More recently it has been asserted that he succeeded his uncle in the see of Thessaloniki. Evidence for that is lacking and it is just possible that his dress in the portrait is a form of honorific. N. was glorified as a saint of the Greek Orthodox church in 1983. Given his theological distance from Roman Catholic orthodoxy, it may be a while before he is permitted to grace the pages of the RM.
(last year's post lightly revised and with the addition of Nicholas Cabasilas)
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