medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Late in life and for centuries afterward Symeon Stylites the Younger (d. late 6th or possibly very early 7th cent.) was venerated at a monastery named for him and extending around his final pillar on a mountain near Antioch on the Orontes in what until the earlier twentieth century was part of Syria (like Antioch / Antakya itself, it's now in Turkey's Hatay province).  At some time between the writing of Symeon's earliest, very late sixth- or early seventh-century Bios and the late ninth century a brief Bios of his mother Martha (BHG 1174) was written at the monastery to accompany her veneration there.

Martha's Bios presents her as a native of Antioch and a pious widow who carefully raises Symeon in the faith and who after he has left home operates miracles and repeatedly is graced with apparitions of St. John the Baptist and of angels.  When one of these angels tells her that she has but one more year to live Symeon receives a similar vision.  When Martha has but three months to live she goes to the monastery and asks Symeon what his plans are for her burial.  Symeon's answer is that he has none but that he and the monks are constantly discussing this.  Peeved at this response, Martha announces that the common grave for foreigners in the Antiochian suburb of Daphne will be good enough for her.

When Martha does die she is buried at Daphne.  Symeon is informed angelically and instructs a party of monks to bring her body to the monastery.  But this plan is forestalled by the pious action of someone from a village near Antioch who discovers Martha's body in a trench in the cemetery in Daphne and who, thinking that she deserves better, sends it on to the monastery.  The party conveying Martha's body meets the party sent out by by Symeon and together they fulfil his wish.  Martha at first is interred in the monastery's church of the Holy Trinity next to Symeon's column.  Soon, though, she appears in a vision and requests a separate chapel.  This is constructed for her next to the aforementioned church.  Martha is translated thither with great solemnity; miracles occur at her tomb.  Thus far Martha's Bios.

5. July is Martha's feast day in the originally tenth-century Synaxary of Constantinople and in other Byzantine synaxaries.  It is also her feast day in some modern Byzantine-rite churches (others celebrate her on 4. July) and her day of commemoration in the Roman Martyrology.

Some period-pertinent images of St. Martha the mother of St. Symeon Stylites the Younger:

a) as portrayed on a tenth-century mold, now in the University of Michigan's Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, for making metal pilgrim tokens associated with the cult of St. Symeon Stylites the Younger and a modern impression of that mold, with Martha now at lower right (photographs courtesy of Genevra Kornbluth):
1) the mold itself (Martha at lower left; at lower right, St. Conon of Isauria):
2)  a modern impression of that mold (Martha now at lower right):

b) as portrayed (at lower right; at lower left, St. Conon of Isauria) on one side of an eleventh(?)-century lead pilgrim's token associated with the cult of St. Symeon Stylites the Younger and now in the Cleveland Museum of Art:
For a discussion of this piece and of similar tokens associated with the cults of St. Symeon Stylites the Elder and St. Symeon Stylites the Younger, see Philippe Verdier, "A Medallion of St. Symeon the Younger", _Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art_, vol. 67, no. 1 (Jan. 1980), pp. 17-26, reproduced at:

John Dillon

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