The hagiographic cycles of the Great Martyr Demetreus of Thessaloniki include depictions of scenes from the saint’s life and his posthumous miracles. In Byzantine art, such cycle have been encountered since the 11th century in the miniatures of chronicles, temple monumental paintings and applied art. One such example is a 12th century silver reliquary from the Vatopedi Monastery depicting five scenes from the saint’s hagiography. The earliest icons with border scenes date back to the 14th century.
The hagiographic cycles of the saint in the monuments of 12th - 16th century Byzantine and post-Byzantine art include the following scenes: St. Demetreus preaches on city square; St. Demetreus being taken to the Emperor; St. Demetreous praying in the dungeon; St. Demetreous killing a scorpion in the dungeon by the sign of the cross (“the miracle of the scorpion”); St. Demetreus blessing Nestor to fight the gladiator Lyaeos; the Emperor and his wife on the stadium; the fight between Nestor and Lyaeos; the execution of Nestor and the murder of Demetreus; the entombment of St. Demetreus. The depictions of the saint’s posthumous miracles in his hagiographic cycles of that time are pretty rare. One such scene, The Miracle of the Eparch Marian, features a story of the eparch Marian, who got seriously ill from gluttony and other lusts of the flesh. He recovered after Demetreus of Thessaloniki had appeared to him in a dream and told him to spend a night in his temple. The cycles also include depictions of the miracles that the saint performed to help the Thessalonikians in trouble, such as the Miracle of the Besieged city, The Miracle of the Appearance of the Angels, The Great Martyr Saves the City from a Famine and the Miracle of the Tsar Kaloyan. The Miracle of the Besieged City tells that St. Demetreus stopped the army of Slavs and Avars by averting them from the road to the city. When the Avars and Slavs, having wasted much time, did approach the city and started to besiege it, St. Demetreus threw the first climbing soldier down from the wall on the lances of those standing beneath him, the enemies fled in panic. Having suffered a setback, the Avars and Slav decided to besiege the city again. The Miracle of the Appearance of the Angels describes a vision of a vir illustris in the saint’s temple on the third day of the siege. He saw the angels whom the Lord had sent to Demetreus of Thessaloniki to order him that he leave Thessaloniki for the sins of its citizens. But the Great Martyr who was ready to sacrifice himself, refused to leave the city. On the third day the enemy lifted the besiege of Thessaloniki and retreated. After a while the city was swept by a famine as the enemies had destroyed the entire crop. The miracle of St. Demetrius helping the starving citizens tells how St. Demetreus appeared in a dream to captain of the fleet shipping bread to Constantinople and ordered that he followed him. The saint led the fleet to Thessaloniki and saved its citizens.
While the hagiographic cycles have been encountered in Russian medieval art since the 15th century, one cannot rule out the existence of earlier monuments. Some sources mention a frame to the late 14th - early icon of the Great Martyr Demetreus of Thessaloniki with border scenes from his life from the St. Demetreus Cathedral (lost during the 1812 Napoleonic war). Apart from the scenes encountered in Byzantine monuments, the hagiographic cycles of Russian medieval icons included the scenes not encountered in Byzantine icons, such as the scene of the healing of Leonty, the Eparch of Illyria or the scene of his miraculous crossing the river Danube with the saint’s relics. The hagiographic cycles also include depictions of the image of three maidens who, according to legend, were taken prisoners but were taken back home after they had embroided the face of St. Demetreus of Thessaloniki. Some hagiographic cycles containing the scenes of torturing of the Great Martyr are associated by some researchers with the painters’ willingness to liken St. Demetreus with St. George the Victorious, broadly venerated in Rus. One such example is a 15th - early 16th century icon of St. Demetreus of Thessaloniki with 14 border scenes from the collections of the Rostov Kremlin State Museum.
Since the 18th century, the hagiographic cycles have included the scenes of the nativity and baptism of St. Demetreus of Thessaloniki and the scene of the saint meeting his parents teaching him to worship the holy icons of the Savior and the Theotokos, such as, for example, on a 18th century icon from the Kostroma State United Museum of History and Architecture.
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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