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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  January 2015

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION January 2015

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Subject:

FEAST - A Saint for the Day (January 23): St. John the Almsgiver

From:

John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Fri, 23 Jan 2015 04:23:00 -0600

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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

John the Almsgiver (d. prob. 619 or 620). This Chalcedonian patriarch of Alexandria is also known as John the Almoner, John the Benefactor, John the Eleemosynary, and John the Merciful or, in a translation retaining that adjective's Greek original, John Eleemon / Eleimon. Reliable information about him comes chiefly from a) those portions of his lost contemporary Bios by St. John Moschus and St. Sophronius of Jerusalem that survive in paraphrase as the opening chapters of the composite Bios BHG 887v and, with some differences, in the greatly condensed Bios BHG 887w and b) the somewhat later, and very anecdote-rich supplementary Bios by his fellow Cypriot St. Leontius of Neapolis (BHG 886). Other accounts (e.g., the metaphrastic Bios BHG 888 and various synaxary notices) depend upon these and when at variance with them are likely to be inventive or in error. A native of Cyprus and the son of an imperial governor there, he is said to have married only to please his father and then to have remained chaste in that marriage until his father compelled him to have offspring. These were sons who predeceased him as later did his wife, leaving John a wealthy widower -- and perhaps still a layman -- at the time of his selection, probably in 609 or 610, as patriarch of Alexandria by the _patrikios_ Nicetas, a cousin of the newly installed emperor Heraclius and the latter's military governor in Egypt.

At this time probably most of the Christians in Alexandria were miaphysites. But their Chalcedonian contemporaries considered them monophysites and thus heretics. John's predecessor Theodore (reigned 606/7-608/9) was a recent appointee of the emperor Phocas, whose administration in his last years had been aggressively anti-monophysite; it is tempting to see Theodore's murder during the revolution that brought the Heraclians to power as revenge for acts of repression on his part. Certainly John faced internal opposition and had to tread carefully. Once installed in the see of St. Mark, he removed matter that he perceived as non-Chalcedonian from the liturgy celebrated in churches staffed by priests who accepted his authority, raised the salaries of his underlings in an attempt to make them less susceptible to bribery, and normalized the weights and measures used in Alexandria (regulation in this area was one of the ordinary duties of a Byzantine bishop). He also undertook a policy of sustained charity to the city's very numerous poor, erecting hospitals, hostels, and poorhouses and making repeated donations. As the Persian war against the empire that had begun in 602 continued to go badly for the Romans refugees from invaded areas fled to Alexandria. John supported these unfortunates from the patriarchal fisc and after the Persians sacked Jerusalem in 614 he generously provided the church there with a huge gift of money and foodstuffs. He also engaged regularly in acts of personal charity and through his example inspired others to behave similarly.

The Persians took Alexandria in June 619. John, whose life had been under threat from the leader of a faction that wished to surrender, had departed for Cyprus shortly before then. According to Leontius, he traveled with Nicetas as far as Rhodes. There he received a vision summoning him to the King of Kings. Taking leave of his earthly ruler's representative, John proceeded to Cyprus and -- still according to Leontius -- settled in his native Amathous, where he died on the feast day of St. Menas and where he was buried in an oratory dedicated to St. Tychon; miraculously, the bodies of two bishops already laid to rest there moved aside to grant him space. Whereas Leontius gives the impression that John died not long after reaching Amathous, John Moschus and Sophronius have him first evade an attempt on his life by the same would-be assassin who had machinated against him in Alexandria and later intervene to cause parties threatening armed conflict in Constantia (the former Salamis) to instead negotiate a peaceful settlement. Thus far John's early Bioi. Not mentioned in these texts is his authorship, as patriarch of Alexandria, of the Bios of his fellow Cypriot St. Tychon of Amathous (BHG 1859).

In the numeration of patriarchs of Alexandria John the Almsgiver is John V. His cult spread rapidly in the Greek-speaking world. In Latin, Anastasius Bibliothecarius' later ninth-century translation (BHL 4388) of Leontius' Bios had fairly wide circulation. Several other translations of this text into Latin are known to exist. In the later Middle Ages John became very widely known in Latin Christendom through Bl. Jacopo da Varazze's chapter dedicated to him (cap. 27) in the _Legenda aurea_. John's having died on 11. November (the feast of the eastern great martyr Menas and also that of Martin of Tours, a major saint in most of the west) had consequences for his position in festal calendars. Although he is entered under 11. November in the early medieval Palestinian-Georgian calendar preserved in the tenth-century codex Sinaiticus 34, from at least the tenth century onward in the Synaxary of Constantinople and in Orthodox and other eastern-rite churches generally he has almost always been celebrated on 12. November. In Latin-rite churches from at least the later Middle Ages onward John has usually been celebrated on 23. January. Following its frequent preference for the earliest recorded _dies natalis_, the revised RM of 2001 moved its commemoration of him to 11. November. 

According to Anthony of Novgorod, who visited Constantinople in ca. 1200, the relics of John the Almsgiver were then kept in that city's church of St. Plato. The date and circumstances of these relics' arrival there are unknown. According to the late fourteenth-century Russian Anonymus, John's body was then in the empress' convent (a.k.a. the monastery of Kyra Martha) near the church of the Holy Apostles; the same information is offered by Alexander the Clerk, who visited Constantinople in the 1390s. But by then, if one is to believe Venice's later fourteenth-century scholar-doge Andrea Dandolo, John was already in the Serenissima, having been translated thither from Constantinople in 1249. His putative and allegedly complete relics there may still be seen in Venice's chiesa di San Giovanni in Bragora:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/25727578@N04/3244475010/lightbox/
http://tinyurl.com/bhnarmf
http://tinyurl.com/dyx2l7y

In November 1489 sultan Bayezid II sent king Matthias Corvinus of Hungary a major relic of John the Almsgiver. This treasure, which may have come from the relics that had been in the empress' convent / Kyra Martha monastery, at first graced the royal chapel in Buda Castle. Later it was moved to the cathedral of St. Martin in Bratislava (the coronation church of Hungarian kings from 1563 to 1830), where it is now on display in an elevated cage in a baroque chapel dedicated to John:
http://tinyurl.com/a23ny8u
http://tinyurl.com/aope6zc

Some medieval images of John the Almsgiver:

a) John the Almsgiver as depicted in the late tenth- or very early eleventh-century so-called Menologion of Basil II (Città del Vaticano, BAV, cod. Vat. gr. 1613, p. 177; reduced grayscale image):
http://tinyurl.com/nodobx7

b) John the Almsgiver as depicted in the eleventh-century frescoes of the church of Agios Georgios Diasoritis near Chalki on Naxos:
http://www.azalas.de/bilder/2012-02/P1200831-1_450

c) John the Almsgiver (in the roundel at top in the arch soffit) as depicted in the earlier twelfth-century mosaics (ca. 1143) of the basilica di Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio (a.k.a. chiesa della Martorana) in Palermo:
http://tinyurl.com/8xobq9e
A closer view (taken from the website of a dealer in quality reproductions):
http://tinyurl.com/apmz873

d) John the Almsgiver (at center, between Sts. John Chrysostom and Epiphanius of Salamis) as depicted in the probably late twelfth-century frescoes of the altar area in the church of the Archangel Michael in Kato Lefkara (Larnaka prefecture) in the Republic of Cyprus (for a slightly larger view, click on the image):
http://tinyurl.com/8a2y4tu

e) John the Almsgiver (at left, with Sts. Athanasius and Basil the Great) in an originally early thirteenth-century fresco (1208-1209; carefully repainted in 1569) in the altar area of the church of the Theotokos at the Studenica monastery near Kraljevo (Raška dist.) in Serbia:
http://www.maletic.org/picture/lf015.jpg?pictureId=2848741
Detail views:
http://pemptousia.com/files/2013/11/ioan-milostiv-studenita-1209-in.jpg
http://tinyurl.com/beger8j

f) John the Almsgiver as depicted in a mid-thirteenth-century fresco in the church of St. Peter and St. Paul at Stari Ras (Raška dist.) in Serbia:
http://tinyurl.com/4n886r4
http://tinyurl.com/4cdjkwc
Detail view:
http://tinyurl.com/4n9xob9

g) John the Almsgiver as depicted in a later thirteenth-century fresco (betw. 1260 and 1263) in the altar area of the church of the Holy Apostles in the Patriarchate of Peć at Peć in, depending on one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:
http://tinyurl.com/2a54g8e

h) John the Almsgiver giving alms as depicted in a late thirteenth-century copy of French origin of the _Legenda aurea_ (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, ms. HM 3027, fol. 26v; image greatly expandable):
http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/ds/huntington/images//000966A.jpg

i) John the Almsgiver as portrayed in a late thirteenth-century head reliquary of silver and glass in the treasury of the cathedral of St. Domnius in Split:
http://tinyurl.com/b6r4db5

j) John the Almsgiver (at right, followed by St. Meletius [probably M. of Antioch] and by St. Epiphanius [of Salamis]) as depicted in the late thirteenth-century frescoes (ca. 1295) by Eutychios and Michael Astrapas in the church of the Peribleptos (now Sv. Kliment Ohridski) in Ohrid:
http://tinyurl.com/a4jgl8f
Detail view (John the Almsgiver):
http://tinyurl.com/a4sznph

k) John the Almsgiver as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. ca. 1308 and ca. 1320) by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in the church of St. Nicetas the Goth (Sv. Nikita) at Čučer in today's Čučer-Sandevo in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:
http://tinyurl.com/az7hjj3

l) John the Almsgiver (at right; at left, St. Clement of Alexandria) as depicted in an earlier fourteenth-century fresco (betw. 1335 and 1350) in the altar area of the church of the Holy Ascension at the Visoki Dečani monastery near Peć in, depending on one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:
http://tinyurl.com/2cw5kqb
Detail view (John the Almsgiver):
http://tinyurl.com/peo7qeo

m) John the Almsgiver (at left; at right, St. John Chrysostom) as depicted in a November calendar portrait in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1335 and 1350) in the narthex of the church of the Holy Ascension at the Visoki Dečani monastery near Peć in, depending on one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:
http://tinyurl.com/39vcqhp

n) John the Almsgiver (at right; at left, St. John the Forerunner) as depicted in a fourteenth-century fresco in the church of Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis in Kakopetria (Nicosia prefecture) in the Republic of Cyprus:
http://tinyurl.com/kut69dr
Detail view (John the Almsgiver):
http://www.agiosnikolaoskozanis.gr/noem2010/Agios_Ioannis_Eleimon.jpg

o) John the Almsgiver (second register, at far left; next to him his biographer St. Leontius of Neapolis) as depicted in a fourteenth-century fresco in the monastery of St. John the Theologian (Sv. Ioan Bogoslov) at Zemen in western Bulgaria:
http://trakia-tours.com/gallery/img-2-06-08-2011-12-22-50.jpg

p) John the Almsgiver clothing the poor as depicted in a later fourteenth-century copy (ca. 1380) of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (Paris, Bibliothèque Mazarine, ms. 1729, fol. 49v):
http://www.culture.gouv.fr/Wave/savimage/enlumine/irht16/IRHT_068230-p.jpg

q) John the Almsgiver (lower register, second from left, with Sts. Barlaam of Khutynsk, Paraskeva Pyatnitsa, and Anastasia) as depicted in an early fifteenth-century Novgorod School icon now in The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg:
http://www.icon-art.info/hires.php?lng=en&type=1&id=564

r) John the Almsgiver giving alms as depicted in a mid-fifteenth-century copy (betw. 1447 and 1455) of Giovanni Colonna's _Mare historiarum_ (Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 4915, fol. 300v):
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6000905v/f670.item

s) John the Almsgiver (at center, between Sts. Nicholas of Myra and Basil of Parium) as depicted in a late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century Novgorod School icon in the Museum of History and Culture in Novgorod:
http://www.icon-art.info/hires.php?lng=en&type=1&id=813

t) John the Almsgiver presenting the donor Hans Bonn as depicted in a later fifteenth-century glass window (1476-1500) in bay 18 of the abbatiale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul in Wissembourg (Bas-Rhin):
http://www.culture.gouv.fr/Wave/image/memoire/1629/ivr42_19876702822xa_p.jpg

u) John the Almsgiver as depicted in the fifteenth- or sixteenth-century frescoes of the church of Panagia Paleoforitisa (a.k.a. Panagia Pantanassa) in Veria / Veroia (Imathia prefecture) in northern Greece:
http://www.pravenc.ru/data/2010/09/29/1234251344/i400.jpg

v) John the Almsgiver (misidentified here as St. Augustine!) as depicted in the central panel of the early sixteenth-century St. John the Almsgiver / St. John the Merciful altarpiece (ca. 1502 - ca. 1504) in the National Museum in Kraków:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/24364447@N05/8098144719/lightbox/
Expandable views of John as depicted in three other panels of this altarpiece:
http://tinyurl.com/ad22o2o

w) John the Almsgiver as depicted in an early sixteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1505) in the diocesan museum in Kielce, Poland:
http://tinyurl.com/a4ylxav

x) John the Almsgiver as portrayed in a polychromed wooden sculpture by Master Paul of Levoča (Majster Pavol z Levoče) from his earlier sixteenth-century altar of St. John (1520) in the basilica of St. James in Levoča, Slovakia, now on display in the Slovak National Museum–Spiš Museum in Levoča:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/beauharnais/5833893874/lightbox/
Detail views:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/beauharnais/5833346763/lightbox/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/beauharnais/5833350211/lightbox/
A view of the closed altar with John the Almsgiver at left:
http://www.chramsvjakuba.sk/oltare/osjanov/osjanovm.jpg

y) John the Almsgiver (at right; at left, St. Clement of Alexandria) as depicted in a restored earlier sixteenth-century fresco (1544; attributed to Joseph Houris) in the altar area of the St. Neophytus monastery at Tala (Paphos prefecture) in the Republic of Cyprus:
http://www.kypros.org/Sxetikos/Monastiria/NeophytosE-11b.htm

z) John the Almsgiver (image at left; at right, St. Gregory of Nazianzus) as depicted by Theofanis Strelitzas-Bathas (a.k.a. Theophanes the Cretan) in an earlier sixteenth-century fresco (1545 or 1546) on the ieron in the katholikon of the Stavronikita monastery on Mt. Athos:
http://tinyurl.com/b5swv6s

aa) John the Almsgiver (lower register at right; at left, St. Athanasius of Alexandria) as depicted by Theofanis Strelitzas-Bathas (a.k.a. Theophanes the Cretan) in the earlier sixteenth-century frescoes (1545 and 1546) in the diakonikon of the katholikon of the Stavronikita monastery on Mt. Athos:
http://tinyurl.com/75c9p5d

bb) John the Almsgiver (grayscale) as depicted by Onoufrios in the earlier sixteenth-century frescoes (1547) in the church of Agioi Apostoloi in Kastoria in northern Greece:
http://pandektis.ekt.gr/pandektis/bitstream/10442/85780/1/0818.jpg

Best,
John Dillon
(matter from an older post, now revised)

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