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FEAST - A Saint for the Day (Feb. 23): St. Polycarp of Smyrna


John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>


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


Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:46:30 +0000





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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

One of the leading figures of early Christianity, the apostolic father Polycarp (d. ca. 155 or ca. 166) was an elder of the church of Smyrna (today's Izmir in Turkey) who in time became its bishop.  He was a disciple of St. John (which one is not clear), a correspondent of St. Ignatius of Antioch, and a teacher of St. Irenaeus of Lyon.  According to St. Jerome, his Epistle to the Philippians was still being read in church services in around the year 400.  Late in life Polycarp visited Rome during the pontificate of St. Anicetus.  In his great old age he was martyred at Smyrna along with other members of his church.

A largely credible account of Polycarp's martyrdom survives in the _Martyrium Polycarpi_ (BHG 1556-1560).  This circulated both separately and, in slightly abbreviated form, in Eusebius' _Historia ecclesiastica_ (4. 15) and was also available in Latin in Rufinus' translation of Eusebius as well as in at least one independent Latin translation.  Directly and indirectly through imitators it had an enormous influence, both in form and in its details, on many other Passiones.  Polycarp's late antique Bios by pseudo-Pionius (BHG 1561), on the other hand, is utterly untrustworthy.  The legendary Passiones of St. Benignus of Dijon (BHL 1153-1155) and St. Andeolus (BHL 423) make them disciples of St. Polycarp of Smyrna sent to Gaul as evangelists and martyred there.

Until at least the early 1950s Polycarp was venerated in Smyrna / Izmir at a structure on Mount Pagus (outside of old Smyrna) known as the Tomb of St. Polycarp and seen here in an old-photograph view:


The monastery of the Panagia Ambelakiotissa and Ag. Polykarpos in Naupactus / Nafpaktos in Aetolia - Acarnania treasures a reliquary containing what is believed to be Polycarp's lower right arm and right hand:


For a bit more on this relic, said to have been brought to the monastery from Smyrna in 1479, see:


Some period-pertinent images of St. Polycarp of Smyrna:

a) as depicted (at top; at center St. Cosmas; at bottom, St. Damian) on an arch soffit in the very late fifth- or early sixth-century mosaics of the Cappella Arcivescovile (a.k.a. Cappella di Sant'Andrea) in Ravenna:


b) as depicted (second from left) in the procession of male saints in the heavily restored later sixth-century mosaics (ca. 561) of the basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna:


c) as depicted in the earlier eleventh-century mosaics (restored betw. 1953 and 1962) in the katholikon of the monastery of Hosios Loukas near Distomo in Phokis:


d) as portrayed in relief (at right; at left, St. Benignus of Dijon) on the earlier twelfth-century long side of the sarcophagus of St. Andeolus in the église Saint-Andéol at Bourg-Saint-Andéol (Ardèche):


e) as depicted in the later twelfth-century frescoes (1164) of the church of St. Panteleimon (Pantaleon) at Gorno Nerezi (Skopje municipality) in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:


f) as depicted in one 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. 36v, sc. 1A):


g) as depicted in the later thirteenth-century frescoes (either betw. ca. 1263 and 1270 or slightly later) in the monastery church of the Holy Trinity at Sopoćani near Kraljevo (Raška dist.) in Serbia:


Detail view:


h) as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. ca. 1311 and ca. 1322) in the church of St. Nicholas Orphanos in Thessaloniki:


i) as depicted (at right; at left, St. Modestus of Jerusalem) in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. ca. 1312 and 1321/1322) in the monastery church of the Theotokos at Gračanica in, depending upon one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:


j) as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. ca. 1313 and ca. 1320) by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in the King's Church (dedicated to Sts. Joachim and Anne) in the Studenica monastery near Kraljevo (Raška dist.) in Serbia:


k) as depicted (panel at lower left; martyrdom) in an earlier fourteenth-century pictorial menologion from Thessaloniki (betw. 1322 and 1340; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gr. th. f. 1, fol. 28r):


l) as depicted in two successive miniatures 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, fol. 141r, 142v):

1) ordained by St. John the Evangelist; vision of Christ:


2) martyrdom:


m) as twice depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1335 and 1350) in the altar area of the Visoki Dečani monastery near Peć in, depending upon one's view of the matter, either Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija or the Republic of Kosovo:

1) as one of the officiating church fathers:


2) at left here (on the north arch); at right, a St. Eustathius:



n) as depicted (martyrdom) in the later fourteenth-century Breviary of Charles V (ca. 1364-1370; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 1052, fol. 332r):


o) as depicted in two successive miniatures in a later fourteenth-century copy of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1370-1380; Paris, BnF, ms. Nouvelle acquisition française 15941, fols. 29r, 30r):

1) ordained by St. John the Evangelist:


2) martyrdom:


p) as depicted in the late fourteenth-century frescoes (later 1380s?) in the altar area of the church of the Holy Ascension at the Ravanica monastery near Ćuprija in central Serbia:


q) as depicted (martyrdom) in an early fifteenth-century copy of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay followed by the _Festes nouvelles_ attributed to Jean Golein (ca. 1401-1425; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 242, fol. 294r):


r) as depicted (martyrdom) in a mid-fifteenth-century copy of Giovanni Colonna's _Mare historiarum_ (betw. 1447 and 1455; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 4915, fol. 205v):


s) as depicted in two miniatures 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. 50, fol. 384v, and ms. 51, fol. 36v):

1) brought before Marcus Aurelius; martyrdom:


2) at upper left, blessing Sts. Benignus of Dijon and Andeolus:


t) as depicted (martyrdom) in a later fifteenth-century copy of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1470; Mâcon, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 3, fol. 143r):


In the _Martyrium Polycarpi_ Polycarp is sentenced to be burned alive; when the flames leave him unscathed he is stabbed to death.  In this illumination he appears first to be stabbed while flames surround him and then to be beheaded.

u) as depicted (left margin at top) in a hand-colored woodcut in the Beloit College copy of Hartmann Schedel's late fifteenth-century _Weltchronik_ (_Nuremberg Chronicle_; 1493) at

fol. CXIVr:


v) as depicted in the mid-sixteenth-century frescoes (1545 and 1546) by Theofanis Strelitzas-Bathas (a.k.a. Theophanes the Cretan) in the katholikon of the Stavronikita monastery on Mt. Athos:


w) as depicted (martyrdom) in the mid-sixteenth-century frescoes (1546/47) by George / Tzortzis the Cretan in the Dionysiou monastery on Mt. Athos:



John Dillon


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