medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
According to these saints' highly legendary pre-metaphrastic Passio BHG 2443, bishop Theopemptus was one of the first victims of Diocletian's persecution. Having been brought before that emperor (seemingly at Nicomedia) and having maintained the superiority of Christianity, he was thrust into a burning oven from which he emerged unscathed. After that, one of his eyes was ripped out and he was forced to drink poison prepared by the magus Theonas. When Theopemptus overcame the poison's lethal force the astounded Theonas converted to Christianity. Theopemptus underwent further torture and at last was killed by the sword; Theonas was buried alive. Thus far their Passio. The latter has an epitome preserved in the eleventh-century "imperial" menologion in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (BHG 2444).
The likewise legendary Passio of the 1003 Martyrs of Nicomedia (BHG 1219) places Theopemptus' martyrdom in the first year of Diocletian's persecution but also says that it occurred at the same time as the deaths of four officials who had been responsible for the arrest of St. Peter of Alexandria (d. 311). The same confusion as to year of martyrdom exists for the better attested bishop St. Anthimus of Nicomedia, said to have been put to death either under Diocletian just after the start of the Great Persecution in 303 (so Eusebius, _Historia ecclesiastica_, 8. 6 and 13) or under Maximinus in 311 (so St. Lucian of Antioch in a fragment preserved in the _Chronicon Paschale_). Assuming for the sake of argument that an actual Theopemptus is reflected, however dimly, in aspects of these Passiones, he could have been either a bishop of Nicomedia martyred in whichever of these years is wrong for Anthimus or a bishop from some other see who happened to have been executed in Nicomedia. Theonas occupies a role that recurs in legendary narratives of this sort and his presentation here seems completely fictional.
Versions of BHG 2444 exist in Syriac (BHO 1182) and in Armenian (BHO 1183). In the Latin West relics of Theopemptus and Theonas were thought by the mid-eleventh century to have once been preserved at Treviso in the Veneto. At Reichenau it was understood that Bishop Radolf of Verona translated them from Treviso to the abbey early in the tenth century. Much later, once a house of canons obeying the abbot of Reichenau had been established at Radolfzell on the Bodensee in today's Landkreis Konstanz, it was believed that Radolf had brought their bodies with him when he retired to a cell there and that they had remained there in the abbey that he had founded (as the canons of Radolfzell are not documented before the end of the eleventh century, one may be permitted to doubt this view of their institutional history). A seemingly late tenth-century translation of these saints' bodies, also from Treviso, is said to have brought them to the abbey of St. Sylvester in Nonantola (so BHL 8115, a Translation account thought to have been composed at the behest of Nonantola's earlier eleventh-century abbot Rodolfus I and giving 21. May as the day of the saints' translation feast). A Latin-language translation (BHL 8118) of their Passio from a now lost text largely similar to BHG 2443 was executed in the late tenth or -- more probably -- earlier eleventh century by Cosmas of Matera, a Benedictine monk living in largely Greek-speaking southern Apulia. It survives in an eleventh- or twelfth-century dossier on them from Nonantola and is thought to have been commissioned by that house. Other witnesses (e.g. Augsburg, UB, Cod. I. 2. 4o 16, a late twelfth-century legendary from Tegernsee) testify to its wider use.
In medieval texts bearing on these saints' Latin veneration Theopemptus' name was written as Theopontius / Theopontus / Theopompus, while Theonas became better known as Sinesius, the name he is said to have adopted after his conversion to Christianity; the latter also appears as Synesius, Senesius, and Genesius. In the later sixteenth century Pietro Galesini entered the pair in his early version of the Roman Martyrology under 3. January as Genesius and Theopontius. In the RM's first papally approved version (1586) Bl. Cesare Baronio changed that to the now familiar Theopemptus and Theonas, though under 21. May he let stand another commemoration "Eodem die sanctorum martyrum Synesii et Theopompi" (a doublet deriving from Petrus de Natalibus' later fourteenth-century _Catalogus Sanctorum_ and retained in the Roman Martyrology until its revision of 2001). In the _Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina manuscripta_ the two appear as "Theopemptus (al. Theopompus) ep. et Theonas (al. Sinesius) mm. Nicomediae".
Herewith some views of the abbey of Nonantola's silver-on-wood reliquary for what are said to be the crania of Sts. Senesius and Theopompus (variously dated from the tenth century to the thirteenth), now kept in the Museo diocesano d'arte sacra e benedettino at Nonantola:
An eleventh-century troper from Reichenau (Bamberg, Staatliche Bibliothek, Lit. 5 [Ed. V 9]) preserves a sequence _De ss. Senesio et Theoponto_ (_AH_ 34, p. 270) beginning _Devoti cordis laude nobis colende digne_:
At Radolfzell, Theopemptus (venerated as Theopompus or Theopontus; in German, also Theopont) and Theonas (venerated as Senesius or Synesius; in German, also Senes) were two of the abbey's three patron saints from at least the end of the eleventh century (when the canons regular there are first documented) down to its dissolution in 1809. Putative relics of all three (the third is Zeno of Verona) are kept in Radolfzell's originally fifteenth-/sixteenth-century Münster Unserer Lieben Frau in a mostly wooden reliquary chest from 1540 (for views of this object see below at item e) in the links to images).
In the Synaxary of Constantinople these martyrs' feast falls on 4. January; Theopemptus has another commemoration on 7. February (also the feast day of the 1003 Martyrs of Nicomedia). Other medieval calendars entered this pair under 5. January, as do also today's Greek Orthodox and other Byzantine-rite churches. In the Roman Martyrology they have always been commemorated on 3. January (as noted above, for most of its history they were also commemorated, under other names, on 21. May). At Nonantola they are celebrated liturgically both today and (translation feast) on 21. May. In Radolfzell, where the two are now civic patrons, they are celebrated liturgically on the third Sunday in July.
Some period-pertinent images of Sts. Theopemptus and Theonas of Nicomedia:
a) as depicted (martyrdom: Theopemptus at left, Theonas at right) in the late tenth- or very early eleventh-century so-called Menologion of Basil II (Città del Vaticano, BAV, cod. Vat. gr. 1613, p. 295):
b) as depicted (martyrdom: Theopemptus at left, Theonas at right) in the earlier eleventh-century "imperial" menologion for January in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (ms. W. 521, fol. 25r):
c) as depicted (panel at lower right: male figures holding crosses, Theopemptus above and Theonas below) in an earlier fourteenth-century pictorial menologion from Thessaloniki (betw. 1322 and 1340; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gr. th. f. 1, fol. 23v):
Here they are saints of 5. January; the female figure in the same panel could be St. Syncletica of Alexandria. Theopemptus' face is somewhat abraded but the elderly gents in the two upper panels (pope St.
Sylvester I; the prophet Malachi) will enable one to form an idea of how he looked before the image suffered damage.
d) as depicted on an arch soffit in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1335 and 1350) in the nave 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:
e) as depicted (martyrdom: at far right, Theonas / Synesius; 1st from right, Theopemptus / Theopontus) on two engraved plaques on a long side of the earlier sixteenth-century reliquary (1540) they share with St. Zeno of Verona in the Münster in Radolfzell:
A better view under different light:
All the plaques as depicted in a nineteenth-century engraving:
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