The Grand Martyress Anastasia (Farmakolitria, Uzoreshitelnitsa) was a saint who suffered during the persecution of Christians in the reign of Emperor Diocletian in the late 3rd – early 4th century.

No historical accounts of the Grand Martyress Anastasia have survived. There are several versions of the saint’s life, as a consequence of the confusion of two saints’ hagiographies - the holy martyress Anastasia the Roman (the Elder) and the grand martyr Anastasia (the Junior), -who suffered for faith in the mid 3rd – early 4th century AD.

Anastasia’s Life, included in the Great Menaion Reader and derived from Basil II’s Menologion, tells that St. Anastasia was born in Rome of well-born and wealthy parents. Her mother, a secret Christian, raised Anastasia in faith and piety. The spiritual leader for the young girl was St. Chrisogonos. Anastasia secretly visited the Christians, locked up in prisons, to relieve their sufferings.

When the emperor found out about that she was Christian, he forced her to deny Christ. After she refused to do so, she was subjected to torments and death. Some sources have it that she was beheaded, while others tell that she was stretched between four pillars and burnt.

In Byzantine, the saint was venerated as a healer and received the name Farmakolitria (Αναστασία ἡ Θαρμακολύτρια), or “Deliverer from Potion” In Rus, the grand martyress Anastasia was venerated as the saint who can relieve sufferings of the prisoners and was therefore named Uzoreshitelnitsa.

In Byzantine and Russian medieval art the grand martyress Anastasia was portrayed wearing a himation and omopforion, often red-colored, holding a cross, sometimes with a sudarium on the head. On some icons, St. Anastasia is shown holding a narrow-neck vessel. There being several martyresses named Anastasia, it is often hard to establish their identities. The earliest surviving image of St. Anastasia is featured on the wall-paintings at the Basilica Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, in which she is depicted as a wealthy Roman patrician with a martyr’s crown on the head. She is also depicted on a miniature from Basil II’s Menologion dating back to 976 – 1025 AD, with an accompanying inscription that reads “Farmakolitria” (Vat. gr. 1613. P. 264). The earliest surviving image of St. Anastasia in Russian art is featured on a 12th century silver crater, now kept in the Novgorod Museum. The saint was often depicted on northern icons among selected saints, such as a 15th century icon of Sts. Parasceva and Anastasia dated from the second half of the 15th century, now located in the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

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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