medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Phocas of Sinope (a.k.a. Phocas the Gardener) is a famous early martyr of whom, like so many early martyrs, very little is actually known. Our first account of him, the fourth-century Asterius of Amasea's _Homily 9_, tells us that Phocas was born at Sinope in Pontus (today's Sinop, about halfway along Turkey's Black Sea coast), that he lived as a rustic gardener outside a gate of that city, and that, though poor, he was generous in his hospitality. During an unspecified persecution, agents of the Roman state arrived at Phocas' house with the intent to slay him as he was a known Christian. But they didn't know what he looked like. Phocas offered them hospitality and promised that on the following day he would point out to them the man they sought. The agents accepted this offer. While they slept Phocas dug his own grave. On the next day Phocas revealed his identity to his guests and asked them to slay him quickly. Overcoming their initial amazement, the agents rapidly complied by decapitating him. Thus far Asterius, who adds that other places venerate Phocas and have sought some relics of him; further, that he is a patron of sailors, often seen by them at night when a storm has been expected.
The poor gardener or other small-farmer outside the city is familiar character in Hellenistic literature. And the association with sailors derives on the similarity of Phocas' name with the Greek word for seal (the mammal), _phokos_. All one can say about Phocas from Asterius' homily is that he was a martyr venerated at Sinope and elsewhere. According to Asterius, one of the elsewheres was Rome; according to St. John Chrysostom, another was Constantinople. Epigraphic and other evidence shows Phocas' cult to have been widespread in the East from at least the fifth century onward. To judge from toponyms and other indicia from the Salentine Peninsula and from Calabria, it was also firmly rooted in Greek-speaking southern Italy. St. Symeon Metaphrastes adopted Asterius' account wholesale, thus reinforcing the megalomartyr Phocas' popularity in the central and later medieval Greek and other Orthodox world.
An undated Greek Passio (BHG 1536, 1536c), later than Asterius, makes Phocas a bishop of Sinope martyred under Trajan. This highly legendary account spawned both a Latin Passio (BHL 6838) as well as matter in the historical martyrologies of Bede, Florus, and Ado under 14. July, the date provided by one of the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology's less informative entries, _alibi s. Focae episcopi_ ("elsewhere, St. Phocas the bishop"). In the Roman Martyrology Phocas was commemorated on that date until its revision of 2001, when his elogium was moved to today to replace another, also deriving from the (ps.-)HM, of a Phocas said to have suffered at Antioch. In both the Synaxary of Constantinople and the Metaphrastic Menologion Phocas is celebrated on 22. September (the SynCP also has him on 6. July), as he is today in churches employing the Byzantine Rite.
Views of the floor (while it was still _in situ_) of Phocas' unfinished or barely finished late antique church on the coast at Çiftlik near Sinop:
Some period-pertinent images of St. Phocas of Sinope:
as depicted (martyrdom) in the late tenth- or early eleventh-century so-called Menologion of Basil II (Cittŕ del Vaticano, BAV, cod. Vat. Gr. 1613, p. 58):
as depicted (both with his oar and as a bishop) of Sinope in the later eleventh-century frescoes of the south inner gallery of the cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv / Kiev:
as depicted (holding a rudder) in a thirteenth-century mosaic in the atrium of Venice's basilica di San Marco:
as depicted (as a bishop) in an earlier fourteenth-century fresco (1312) in the inner narthex of the katholikon of the Vatopedi monastery on Mt. Athos:
as depicted (as a martyr) in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. ca. 1313 and ca. 1320) in the King's Church (dedicated to Sts. Joachim and Anne) in the Studenica monastery near Kraljevo (Raška dist.) in Serbia:
as depicted (at center, vested as a bishop, in the panel at upper left) in an earlier fourteenth-century pictorial menologion from Thessaloniki (betw. 1322 and 1340; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gr. th. f. 1, fol. 10v):
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