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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  June 2016

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION June 2016

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Subject:

FEAST - A Saint for the Day (June 25): St. Febronia of Nisibis

From:

John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 25 Jun 2016 05:30:15 +0000

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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

The virgin martyr Febronia (Fevronia, Fibronia, Pebronia; d. ca. 304, supposedly) is the subject of a legendary Passio in Greek (BHG 659-659h) that is at least as old as the seventh century and that has early medieval translations in Syriac and in Latin.  This makes her a religious who refused to flee her monastery during the Great Persecution and who was arrested, tortured at great length, and finally decapitated at Nisibis (now Nusaybin in southeastern Turkey's Mardin province).  Nisibis was the seat of a Syrian Christian diocese (Nestorian from the later fifth century onward) for most of late antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages.  Febronia's Passio is thought to have been written there.  Her absence from both the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology and the probably originally late fourth-century Syriac Martyrology (this survives in a manuscript written at Edessa in ca. 411) and thus presumably from the hypothetical fourth-century Greek martyrology thought to have provided a fund of feasts common to both of these suggests a relatively late-arising veneration.  An apparently reliable later reference the existence in 563 of a church dedicated to Febronia in Marga, across the Tigris from Nisibis, has been cited to show the cult's existence in that year.

Febronia's Passio spread throughout the Greek-speaking world, including parts of southern Italy and ultimately eastern Sicily, where her cult, attested at Messina from the twelfth century, has been important at Patti (ME) since at least the fourteenth century and at Palagonia (CT) since at least the seventeenth century (though her rupestrian church at Palagonia may be as old as the seventh century, there's no evidence of its having been dedicated to her medievally).  An English-language translation will be found in Sebastian P. Brock and Susan Ashbrook Harvey, trs., _Holy Women of the Syrian Orient_, updated ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), pp. 152-176; this has been reproduced on the Web at <https://santafebronia.wordpress.com/the-story-of-saint-febronia-of-nisibis-304-305/>.

In 1997 the remains of a monastery, seemingly active from the fifth-/sixth-century to the very early fifteenth, were uncovered at Tuneinir in eastern Syria.  A tooth-shaped reliquary from this site thought to have held a relic of Febronia -- all of whose teeth are said to have been knocked out during her suffering -- is shown here:
http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/Area10reliquary.html

25. June is Febronia's feast day in the originally tenth-century Synaxary of Constantinople and in the calendars of modern Byzantine-rite churches.  In the Roman Rite, Febronia was dropped from the Roman Martyrology in its revision of 2001.  In Patti, where she is both the civic and the diocesan patron, she is celebrated on 5. July.


Some period-pertinent images of St. Febronia of Nisibis:

a) as depicted in the earlier eleventh-century mosaics (restored between 1953 and 1962) in the narthex of the katholikon in the monastery of Hosios Loukas near Distomo near Phokis:
http://tinyurl.com/zxqlfcn

b) as depicted in an undated icon in the Holy Monastery of the God-trodden Mount Sinai at St. Catherine in Egypt's South Sinai governorate:
http://sinai.princeton.edu/sinai/files/original/6659/0699.jpg

c) as depicted (panel at upper left; martyrdom) in an earlier fourteenth-century pictorial menologion from Thessaloniki (betw. 1322 and 1340; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gr. th. f. 1, fol. 45r): 
http://image.ox.ac.uk/images/bodleian/msgrthf1/45r.jpg 

Best,
John Dillon
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