medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
According to their legendary joint Passio, which exists in several versions of differing elaboration (BHG 1844z and its metaphrastic re-working BHG 1845; BHL 8277-8281), Thyrsus, Leucius, and Callinicus were martyrs of northwestern Asia Minor during the Decian persecution. Leucius (in Latin, also Lucius, Lencius, Leontius, etc.), a prominent citizen of Caesarea in Bithynia, was martyred there by torture and decapitation after he had confessed his faith and had reproached a persecuting official for his actions. Thyrsus (in Latin also Tyrsus or Tirsus), a famous athlete of Nicomedia and a pagan, was so impressed by Leucius' courage and by his fortitude in meeting his fate that he became a Christian and, when the official was leaving town, attempted to engage him in a colloquy over the superiority of Christianity.
The official would have none of this. He had Thyrsus arrested and brought with him to Apollonia in Phrygia. There he and another persecuting official engaged in a series of grisly execution attempts from each of which Thyrsus, who had been baptized by angels and who at times was visibly assisted by them, emerged unscathed. The two persecuting officials were in turn struck down with fatal illnesses. But another official took over and continued to proceed against Thyrsus in the same mode and with the same lack of success. Finally, when Thyrsus either was still at Apollonia or else had been brought to Miletus, an attempt was made to kill him by placing him in a wooden coffin and by then sawing both it and him in two. Miraculously, the saw would not budge, whereupon Thyrsus gave up his life without injury. Punishing angels tormented the third persecutor; with the governor's permission Thyrsus was granted an honorable burial.
Callinicus (in medieval Latin texts, usually Calenicus or Galenicus) was a pagan priest who was moved by Thyrsus' example to convert to Christianity and who was executed by decapitation shortly before Thyrsus' own death. Fifteen other priests are said to have converted and to have shared his fate.
Thus far the Passio. Late in the fourth century remains believed to be those of Thyrsus were translated from Apollonia to Constantinople. The cult flourished there: more than one church in the city was dedicated to Thyrsus. Elsewhere his veneration was especially vigorous on both sides of the Pyrenees in the Visigothic kingdom and its successors. Dedications to him (in Spanish and in Portuguese he's Tiso as well as Tirso) are attested there from at least the seventh century onward. Sometimes said to have been a native of Toledo who had gone to Asia Minor, he has a Mozarabic Office with a Mozarabic hymn (_Exulta nimium, turba fidelium_; _AH_ 27. 249).
Thyrsus and Leucius were commemorated in Byzantine synaxaries under 14. December -- in the originally tenth-century Synaxary of Constantinople they have this day's first entry -- and 17. January. In the tenth-century Metaphrastic Menologion they are 14. December's saints of the day. In the Latin west Thyrsus, Leucius, and Callinicus appear in the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology under six different days in January. Most of these appear to be copying errors but their entry under 27. January places their martyrdom at Apollonia and is presumed to reflect their actual commemoration on that day. The ninth-century martyrologists Florus of Lyon, St. Ado of Vienne, and Usuard of Saint-Germain all entered them under 28. January as martyrs of Apollonia. The Roman Martyrology followed suit until its revision of 2001 when their commemoration was moved to 14. December. This latter is also their customary feast day in modern Byzantine-Rite churches.
Some period-pertinent images of Sts. Thyrsus, Leucius, and Callinicus:
a) as depicted (at left and center: the martyrdom of Leucius and Callinicus; at right, standing by an empty sarcophagus, Thyrsus) in the late tenth- or very early eleventh-century so-called Menologion of Basil II (Cittą del Vaticano, BAV, cod. Vat. gr. 1613, p. 243):
b) Thyrsus and Leucius as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century mosaics (betw. 1315 and 1321) in the exonarthex of the Chora church in Istanbul:
c) Thyrsus and companions as depicted (panel at upper left; it's possible that figure at far left is the tortured but never executed Thyrsus) in an earlier fourteenth-century pictorial menologion from Thessaloniki (betw. 1322 and 1340; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gr. th. f. 1, fol. 21r):
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