The holy martyr Eleutherios of Illyria (2nd century AD) was a bishop from the Roman province of Illyria in the northewestern part of the Balkan Peninsula on the Adriatic Sea coast. The saint was martyred in Rome in the first half of the second century during the reign of Emperor Hadrian along with his mother Anthia (Evanthia).
Life accounts of the veneration of the holy martyr Eleutherios and his mother Anthia in the first centuries of Christianity are found in the 4th century Martyrology of Blessed Hieronimus and 7th century Roman road guides – itinerarias – that listed the first Christian catacombs “ad clivum cucumeris” along the Salt road connecting Rome with the Truentum camp on the Adriatic Sea coat of the Apennine peninsula (today’s city of Martinsicuro Teramo, Italy). The earliest account of the Saint’s Torments is believed to have been written not later than in the 8th – 9th centuries in a Greek monastery in Rome.
According to this story, Eleutherios was born in Rome into a wealthy and noble family. His mother, Christian, raised the boy in piety. At the age of 15, Eleutherios was ordained deacon by the Roman Pope. He was subsequently ordained as presbyter and bishop. The saint headed for Illyria where he professed the Christian faith. During the reign of Emperor Hadrian, Christians refusing to worship pagan gods were tortured and executed. By the Emperor’s order Eleutherios was arrested and brought to Rome. After cruel torture the saint was beheaded along with his mother Anthia.
In Byzantine and Russian medieval art the holy martyr Eleutherios of Illiria is depicted as a young man with short dark hair and a small beard and mustaches, dressed in the monastic vestments – phelonion and omophorions – and holding a Gospel book. One of the earliest images of the saint is represented on a miniature of the Menologion of Basil II dating from 976 to 1025 AD (Vat. gr 1613. Fol. 238) depicting the torments of St. Eleutherios.
In Russian medieval art the depictions of St. Eleutherios are encountered in church frescoes. One such example is a 1378 fresco at the Church of the Savior at Ilyin Streen in Veliky Novorod. In iconography St. Eletherius is featured both individually and collectively, such as the icon of The Holy Martyr Eleutherios dating back to the 1730s from the State Tretyakov Gallery collections.
The holy martyr Eleutherious is commemorated on December 28 (December 15, O.S.).
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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