medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
In some Orthodox churches (esp. Greek ones) today is the feast day of Eustathius of Thessaloniki (d. ca. 1195). We know about this prominent churchman and major literary scholar chiefly from his surviving letters and sermons, from remarks and observations in his numerous other writings, and from closely posthumous memorial speeches by his fellow bishops Euthymius Malakes , the metropolitan of Neai Patrai (a friend from Eustathius' student days in Constantinople), and Michael Choniates, the metropolitan of Athens (the historian and a former student of Eustathius'). A member of the Constantinopolitan intellectual elite, he had been a private teacher of grammar before becoming one of the deacons of Hagia Sophia and, in the later 1160s or early 1170s, Master of Rhetors in the patriarchal school. During his time in the capital he wrote the very learned commentaries on Homer's _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ for which he is famous (two of our manuscripts of the commentary on the _Iliad_ are at least largely in Eustathius' own hand, making this perhaps the earliest long work for which which an autograph witness survives) as well as commentaries on other ancient authors, speeches for the imperial court, and a variety of lesser works.
Senior clerics of Hagia Sophia often capped their careers with a bishopric. In 1174 Eustathius was named metropolitan of Myra, a once great see in Lycia that had fallen on hard times. There is no evidence that Eustathius ever went there. In the late 1170s he exchanged this see for that of Thessaloniki, the second city of the empire. As its metropolitan he delivered sermons castigating the socially prominent for lax morals and urging greater charity -- which he wished to have funneled through the metropolitan church -- for the city's poor. He introduced from Constantinople the feasts of the Elevation of the Holy Cross and Holy Monday and made monetary distributions during the attendant festivities. Eustathius fought off attempts by civic authorities to tax church income; he also had to deal with monastic institutions in his see that resisted being brought under his metropolitan control. His treatise _On the Improvement of Monastic Life_ has a lot to say to the discredit of the monks of Thessaloniki.
In 1185 after the assassination of the emperor Andronicus I military forces of the kingdom of Sicily invaded the empire by land and sea in a failed attempt to put a puppet on the throne in Constantinople. An easy success in their campaign was the taking of Thessaloniki, which latter they then held for several months to the great disruption of its economy. Eustathius' engaging account of this civic disaster, _The Capture of Thessaloniki_, presents him in a largely positive light as the spokesperson for the citizenry during this foreign occupation (the imperial governor having fled) and may, along with the concern for the people's well-being expressed in his sermons, have fostered post-mortem impressions of his saintliness. During his last years (which included a period of exile in 1191 and 1192) Eustathius wrote another major work, his commentary on the iambic Canon on the Pentecost traditionally attributed to St. John of Damascus. Its first critical edition, by Paolo Cesaretti and Silvia Ronchey, was published late last year by De Gruyter.
Eustathius' popular cult was immediate: Euthymius Malakes speaks of the collection of healing drops of moisture from his tomb. Though it is unknown when he was formally glorified, by the early fourteenth century he had definitely achieved the status of official sainthood. Eustathius is one of Thessaloniki's four sainted bishops whose portraits appear in the prothesis of the katholikon of the Vatopedi monastery on Mt. Athos and he is portrayed in no fewer than four of the churches endowed by Serbia's king Milutin (d. 1321). Views of those five images follow:
a) Eustathius of Thessaloniki as depicted in the early fourteenth-century frescoes (1312) of the katholikon at Vatopedi:
b) Eustathius of Thessaloniki as depicted in the early fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. ca. 1308 and ca. 1320) by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in the church of St. Nicetas the Goth (Sv. Nikita) near Čučer in today's Čučer-Sandevo in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:
c) Eustathius of Thessaloniki as depicted (at left; at right, probably St. Niphon of Cyprus) in the early fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1313 and 1318; conservation work in 1968) by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in the church of St. George in Staro Nagoričane in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:
Detail view (Eustathius of Thessaloniki):
d) Eustathius of Thessaloniki as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. ca. 1312 and 1321/1322) in the parecclesion of St. Nicholas in the monastery church of the Theotokos at Gračanica in, depending upon one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:
e) Eustathius of Thessaloniki as depicted (second from left) in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. ca. 1313 and ca. 1320) in the altar area of the King's Church (dedicated to Sts. Joachim and Anne) in the Studenica monastery near Kraljevo (Raška dist.) in Serbia:
Eustathius of Thessaloniki has yet to grace the pages of the Roman Martyrology.
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