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FEAST - A Saint for the Day (June 2): St. Erasmus


John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>


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


Thu, 2 Jun 2016 22:52:54 +0000





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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Erasmus appears under today in the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology as follows: _In Formiis in Campania Herasmi_ ("At Formiae in Campania, Erasmus").  In a letter of October 590 pope St. Gregory the Great had noted that Erasmus' body reposes at Formiae (today's Formia in southernmost Lazio).  In the sixth century there was a monastery named for Erasmus at Rome.  His highly legendary Latin _Passio_ (BHL 2578-2585d) exists in three late antique and early medieval recensions whose texts make him a bishop of Antioch on the Orontes who after being tortured almost to death under Diocletian was released by an angel and then went to a place in Illyricum that in some texts is a place that could be either Singidunum (today's Belgrade) or Sirmium (today's Sremska Mitrovica) but in others is prettly clearly Ohrid.  Through his preaching there he converted a great many.  The emperor Maximian had Erasmus arrested and the converts murdered; in an interview that followed Maximian imposed more tortures on Erasmus (wearing a red-hot metal cuirass; immersion in boiling oil).  Having withstood these without injury the saint was again released angelically, whereupon he left Illyricum by ship and traveled to Formiae.  From there he was soon received into heaven.  A Greek version (BHG 602), once thought to be the original text upon which this Latin tradition depended, has been shown instead to be a translation from the Latin.  In subsequent Greek tradition Erasmus dies peacefully not at Formiae but at Ohrid, whence he is called Erasmus of Ohrid.

Erasmus thus has a form of the standard Campanian legend of a bishop (variant: holy virgin) coming from abroad, usually with angelic assistance, and often dying soon afterwards (variant: already dead en route).  Recension B of his Passio includes a sparkling prosimetric version now attributed to the tenth-century Neapolitan hagiographer Peter the Subdeacon; recension C is distinguished by the later eleventh-century work of the Cassinese prose stylist John of Gaeta, later papal chancellor and ultimately pope (as Gelasius II).  Texts that make Erasmus bishop _of_ Formiae and combine this with the testimony of (ps.-)HM and its successors to have him martyred there are later and alien to this tradition.  Later too, after Erasmus had become a patron of sailors, comes the tale, familiar from late medieval pictorial representations, of the winding out of his innards with a windlass.

In the early and central Middle Ages Erasmus' cult spread across today's coastal Campania and southern Lazio. It was from ports there that Erasmus became thought of more widely both as a seaman's saint and as a patron of harbor boatmen, often under the name form "Elmo" (a typically Campanian pronunciation of his hypocorism "Ermo"; in southern and central Italy he's also called "Eramo"; by false division he's also known, especially in Spanish, as San Telmo).  In addition to forts and fortification towers bearing his name in various seaports there are chapels and other churches dedicated to him around much of the western Mediterranean.  From at least the thirteenth century onward Erasmus was also regarded as a healing saint and hospices were named for him. In the late Middle Ages and beyond Erasmus was one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers venerated especially in German-speaking parts of the empire.  Thanks to the story of the unwinding of his intestines with a windlass he was invoked for maladies of the stomach and bowels and to aid women experiencing labor pains.

Since at least the eleventh century and perhaps as early as the later tenth, when he begins to appear on coins of the duchy of Gaeta (in whose territory Formiae lay), Erasmus' relics have been kept the cathedral of Gaeta.  He and St. Marcian of Syracuse are that city's principal patron saints.   Today is the day of Erasmus' feast (a solemnity) in the archdiocese of Gaeta, in the town of Santeramo in Colle (BA) in Apulia, and presumably in other places that like Sant'Eramo in Colle are named for this saint and have an active devotion to him.  It is also his day of commemoration in the Roman Martyrology.  In the Byzantine Rite this is his feast day in the originally tenth-century Synaxary of Constantinople and in other medieval calendars.  In modern Byzantine-rite churches when he is celebrated at all it is also on this day but as Erasmus of Ohrid.

Some period-pertinent images of St. Erasmus:

a) as depicted (at left; in episcopal robes and then being beaten with rods) in a dismounted eighth-century fresco from Rome's chiesa di Santa Maria in Via Lata, now in the Museo Nazionale Romano - Crypta Balbi:


Detail view:


b) as portrayed in relief on coins of the duchy of Gaeta issued under dukes Marinus II (978-984) and John IV (991-1012):


c) as depicted in two of four panels of a full-page illumination in the late twelfth-century so-called Bible of Saint Bertin (ca. 1190-1200; Den Haag, KB, ms. 76 F 5, fol. 37v, sections 2A and 2B):

1) arrested:


2) released from prison by angels:


d) as depicted in relief (scenes) in panels of the thirteenth-century marble historiated paschal candlestick in Gaeta's basilica cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta:

1) enthroned at Antioch (at far left, flanked by two deacons):


2) the torture of the red-hot cuirass (Erasmus second from left):


3) released from prison by an angel:


4) arrival at Formiae:


e) as depicted in a later fourteenth-century fresco (ca. 1375-1385) in the Lutheran church in Ochtiná, Slovakia:


f) as depicted (tortured with a windlass) in an early fourteenth-century fresco in the Wehrkirche St. Vitus in Kottingwörth, a locality of Beilngries (Lkr. Eichstätt) in Bavaria:


g) as thrice depicted in an earlier fourteenth-century copy of books 9-16 of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language vision by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1335; Paris, BnF, ms. Arsenal 5080):

1) restoring to life the son of Anastasius (fol. 223r):


2) boiled in oil (fol. 223v):


3) released from prison by an angel (fol. 224r):


h) as depicted (at left, first figure in the upper register) in a May / June calendar composition in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1335 and 1350) in the narthex of the church of the Holy Ascension in 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:


i) as depicted (holding a windlass) in a panel of the fifteenth-century rood screen in the Church of St Andrew, Hempstead (Norfolk):


j) as depicted (tortured with a windlass) in a fifteenth-century wall painting in Mariakyrkan, Båstad (Skåne län):


k) as depicted (at left; at right, St. James major) in a fifteenth-century glass window panel re-mounted in King's College Chapel, Cambridge:


Detail view (Erasmus):


l) as depicted (preaching) in an early fifteenth-century copy of the _Elsässische Legenda Aurea_ (1419; Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. Pal. germ. 144, fol. 387r):


m) as portrayed (at right; at left, St. Ulrich; at center, St. Blasius [Blaise]) in the earlier fifteenth-century polychromed wooden statues (before 1436) re-used in the central compartment of the otherwise early sixteenth-century winged altarpiece (1517/1518; restored ca. 2000) by Jörg Lederer in the choir of the Kirche St. Blasius in Kaufbeuren:


n) as depicted in the mid-fifteenth-century Prayer Book for Barbara von Cilly (1448; Vienna, ÖNB, cod. 1767, fol. 145v):


o) as thrice depicted (at left, preaching in Illyricum; at right, undergoing the tortures ordered by Maximian) in a later fifteenth-century copy of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (1463; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 51, fol. 53r):


p) as depicted (tortured with a windlass) by Dieric (Thierry) Bouts in the central panel of his later fifteenth-century triptych of the Martydrom of St. Erasmus (between 1457 and 1475) in the Sint-Pieterskerk / église Saint-Pierre in Leuven / Louvain:


q) as depicted (at left; at right, another bishop saint) as depicted by Tommaso De Vigilia (attrib.) in a later fifteenth-century fresco (ca. 1470) in the Galleria regionale di Sicilia in Palermo:


r) as portrayed (at right, St. Erasmus, boiled in oil; at left, St. Catherine of Sweden) in a wooden statue in a later fifteenth-century altarpiece (ca. 1476-1500) in Önums kyrka, Önum, a locality of Vara kommun (Västra Götalands län):


s) as depicted in a late fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1480-1490) in the Kirche St. Blasius in Kaufbeuren:


t) as depicted (left margin, upper image; holding a windlass) in a woodcut in the Beloit College copy of Hartmann Schedel's late fifteenth-century _Weltchronik_ (_Nuremberg Chronicle_; 1493) at fol. CXXIIIIv:


u) as portrayed in high relief (holding a book and a windlass) in the Vierzehn-Nothelfer-Altar (1498) in the Münster St. Marien und Jakobus in Heilsbronn (Lkr. Ansbach), Bavaria:


The open altar in full:


v) as depicted (tortured with a windlass) in the late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century Prayer-roll of Henry VIII (betw. 1485 and 1509; London, BL, Add MS 88929):


w) as depicted (at left, holding a windlass) by Matthias Grünewald in an earlier sixteenth-century panel painting (_The Meeting of St. Erasmus and St. Maurice_; ca. 1520-1524) in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich:


x) as depicted (holding a windlass in one hand and a pastoral staff in the other) in an earlier sixteenth-century prayer book from the southern Netherlands (?Antwerp; ca. 1500-1525; Den Haag, Museum Meermanno, ms. 10 E 4, fol. 98v):



John Dillon


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