medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Joseph the Hymnographer (also Joseph the Poet) was a Greek-speaking Sicilian who was still a child when his parents, fleeing the Muslim invasion of Sicily, brought him to the Peloponnese.  When he was 15 he had moved on to Thessaloniki, where he entered religion at the monastery of the Holy Savior and later became a priest.  St. Gregory the Decapolite brought him to Constantinople and later sent him to Rome on a mission to the pope.  Joseph was captured by Muslim pirates and held on Crete for over a year.  He then returned to Constantinople, where he founded a monastery dedicated to St. Bartholomew the Apostle.

A partisan of the patriarch Ignatius I, Joseph was exiled after the latter was deposed in 858 and probably did not return to the city before Ignatius' restoration in 867.  After his return he was appointed to the diplomatically important office of scevophylax of Hagia Sophia.  Joseph's date of death is now usually given as 886 (formerly, 883).  If the hymn to St. Theodora of Thessaloniki (d. 892) that goes under Joseph's name is really his, this is surely too early.  He has several Bioi of which the earliest is by his contemporary and successor as hegumen of the St. Bartholomew monastery (BHG 944).  Today is Joseph's feast day in the Synaxary of Constantinople and in its modern descendants in some Byzantine-rite churches; others celebrate him on 4. April, as was also the case medievally.  Today is also his day of commemoration in the Roman Martyrology.

As his epithets indicate, Joseph is noted for his hymns.  This is so both for their quantity (over 250 are reasonably certain to be his) and for their familiarity in Eastern-rite churches.  Joseph is the chief contributor of hymns to the Parakletike and some 200 of his canons exist in various menaia.  Some years ago a version of J. M. Neale's translation of his _Phosteres tes ausias_ ("Stars of the Morning") was proffered to this list.  See:
A slightly different version will be found on the Web in various places, e.g. at:

An English-language  translation of Joseph's canon of the Akathist will be found here:
Though not as great a work as the Akathistos hymn itself, this canon is by no means unworthy of it.

Some period-pertinent images of St. Joseph the Hymnographer:

a) as depicted (at far left in the bottom register; click on the image to enlarge) 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:

b) as depicted in the late twelfth-century frescoes (1192; cleaned and restored, 1960s and 1970s) in the church of the Panagia tou Arakou at Lagoudera (Nicosia prefecture) in the Republic of Cyprus:

c) as depicted in a probably earlier thirteenth-century fresco (ca. 1201-1225; restored in a campaign lasting from 1969 to early 1972) in the church of the Panagia Amasgou at Monagri (Limassol prefecture) in the Republic of Cyprus:

d) as depicted (at center; click on the image to enlarge) in an earlier fourteenth-century fresco (betw. 1313 and 1318; conservation work in 1968) by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in the church of St. George in Staro Nagoričane in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:
Detail view:

e) as depicted (at right on the pilaster; at center of the whole view; at left on the pilaster, St. Theodore the Stoudite) in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (ca. 1313-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:

f) as depicted in an earlier fourteenth-century fresco (betw. 1315 and 1321) on a pendentive of the dome in the parecclesion of the Chora Church (Kariye Camii), Istanbul:
The pendentives here bear images of four Holy Hymnographers (St. John of Damascus, St. Theophanes Graptos, St. Joseph the Hymnographer, and St. Cosmas the Poet [Cosmas of Maiuma]).  This view captures the now faded portraits of three of them (Joseph at far right):

g) as depicted (at right 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. 34v):

John Dillon
To join the list, send the message: subscribe medieval-religion YOUR NAME
to: [log in to unmask]
To send a message to the list, address it to:
[log in to unmask]
To leave the list, send the message: unsubscribe medieval-religion
to: [log in to unmask]
In order to report problems or to contact the list's owners, write to:
[log in to unmask]
For further information, visit our web site: