The Venerable Anthony of Rome (died 1147) lived in the 12th century, the founder of the Monastery in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God (not later than 1109) to the north of Novgorod on the right bank of the river Volkhov.

The accounts of the Venerable Anthony’s life are very scarce. The First Novgorodian Chronicle tells that “That summer (1117) hegumen Anthony founded a stone church in the Holy Mother of God Monastery” which was built in 1119 and painted in 1125. In addition to the Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God, the Venerable Anthony in 1127 built a stone refectory in the monastery (didn’t survive). This suggests that the saint introduced a monastic charter, similar to that of the Kiev-Pechersk Monastery. The same chronicle reports that Archbishop Niphontos in 1131 appointed Anthony hegumen (abbot) of the monastery.

According to chronicle, the Venerable Anthony died in 1147 and was buried at the western wall of the Nativity Cathedral in the monastery he had founded.

The earliest accounts of the local veneration of the saint date back to the early 16th century. The earliest surviving copies of his Life date to the late 16th – early 17th centuries. The saint’s Life is believed to have been written between the 1570s and 1580s when the monastery was being restored after the destruction of Novgorod by Ivan the Terrible, who ordered to execute the monastery’s abbot and twenty monks.

According to the saint’s Life, St. Anthony was born in Rome at the time of the division of Christianity into the Orthodox and Roman Catholic denominations. The parents raised the boy in Christian faith. Upon coming to maturity, the youth man gave away part of his property to the poor, sealed the remaining part in a barrel and threw it into the sea. Having done so, Anthony took monastic vows and spent twenty years in ascetic labors. When the Roman Pope started persecutions of Christians, the saint secluded himself on the seashore where he spent time in prayer, denying himself any food. By God’s will, an enormous wave lifted the rock, on which the saint was standing and transported it to Novgorod on the bank of the river Volkhov, where the saint subsequently founded a monastery. After long prayers, the Lord helped Anthony to learn the Russian language through his communication with the Novgorodians. The bishop of Novgorod Nikita, hearing of St. Anthony, wanted to meet him. Having spoken with Anthony, St. Nikita went to the bank of the river Volkhov to make sure the local townspeople were telling the truth and bowed to the rock upon which Anthony had made his miraculous voyage. The bishop of Novgorod helped Anthony to found a monastery on this place. In the depth of the Volkhov waters St. Anthony miraculously found the barrel with his belongings.

The saint’s relics were uncovered on August 3, 1597 (O.S.), which marked the beginning of the nationwide veneration of St. Anthony.

In iconography, St. Anthony is depicted as a gray-haired man with a beard, wearing clerical attire and with a baptismal cap. The saint is commonly portrayed full-length, turned left in prayer to the Holy Virgin, whose images are in the left top segment. In some cases the saint is portrayed with a model church or a scroll. This image was painted in the late 16th century on a rock upon which St. Anthony had, according to legend, had sailed from Rome. Also widespread are the images of the Venerable Anthony standing on a stone in the waters or sailing upon a rock on the Volkhov river against the background of the monastery he had founded, such as an icon dating the first third of the 17th century from the diaconium of the Solovetsky monastery (the Archangelsk Museum of Fine Arts). Frontal images of the Venerable Anthony are also encountered, both individual or collective ones, such as a 1573 carved wooden relief by the master Evtropi Stepanov from the cover of the saint’s shrine (The State Russian Museum). An image of the venerable was sometimes included in the Deesis row of the iconostasis.

The Venerable Anthony of Rome is commemorated on August 16 (August 3, O.S.) and in the third week of the Pentecost – in the Synaxis of the Novgorodian saints.

Zhanna G. Belik,

Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.

Olga E. Savchenko,

research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.


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