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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity


from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world


Theophylact Simocatta in his History describes how, on 2 February 602, the emperor Maurice attended the liturgy for the feast of Christ's Presentation at the Temple (Candlemas) at the church of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) in the Blachernae district of Constantinople, where relics of the robes of Mary were kept and venerated. Written in Greek at Constantinople in the early 7th century.

Evidence ID

E00040

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Theophylact Simocatta

Theophylact Simocatta, History 8.5.1-2

On the feast of the Presentation to the Temple, a riot breaks out against the emperor Maurice in Constantinople. The mob assaults the emperor during a solemn litany through the city. Protected by his bodyguards the emperor reaches the church of Mary at Blachernae where he attends the festal liturgy of the day.

(1.) ... εἶτα πρὸς τὸν τῆς θεομήτορος νεὼν παρεγένοντο, ὃν Λακέρνας ἀποκαλοῦσι τιμῶντες Βυζάντιοι. (2.) τὸ δὲ τέμενος τοῦτο τῶν σεβασμίων λίαν καθέστηκε θρησκεύεταί τε ὑπὸ τοῦ ἄστεος ἐς τὰ μάλιστα· λέγεται γὰρ περιστόλια τῆς παρθένου Μαρίας, ἣν θεοτόκον κυρίως καὶ μόνην οἱ Ῥωμαῖοι πρεσβεύομεν, ἐν σηκῷ χρυσοπάστῳ ἀποτεθῆναι ἐνταῦθα.

‘(1.) ... Next they [Maurice and his retinue] came to the church of the Mother of God, which Byzantines [i.e. the inhabitants of Constantinople] honour by the name Lacernae [i.e. Blachernae]. (2.) This sanctuary is one of the most venerated, and is especially revered by the city. For it is said that the Robes of the Virgin Mary, whom we Romans honour supremely and alone as the only Mother of God, are deposited in a gold-inlaid shrine there.’

Text: de Boor and Wirth 1972. Translation: Whitby and Whitby 1986, modified.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)
Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Relics

Contact relic - cloth
Reliquary – institutionally owned

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family
Ecclesiastics – unspecified
Other lay individuals/ people

Source

Theophylact Simocatta wrote his History in Constantinople probably in the late 620s. The period covered by his work is the reign of Maurice (582-602), and the main subjects of the historical narrative are the wars of the East Roman Empire with Persia, and with the Avars and the Slavs in the Balkans. Several digressions of hagiographical, chronographical and geographical interest are inserted in the narrative. Using various earlier sources, Simocatta produces a positive account of Maurice, portraying him as a good emperor overthrown by a tyrant (Phocas). In fact, Maurice was very unpopular in his own times, but cleansing his memory was important to legitimise the rule of Heraclius (610-641), who presented his own coup against Phocas as avenging the murder of Maurice. A supporter and successful official of Heraclius’ regime, Simocatta apparently served this particular political agenda.

Further reading:
Whitby and Whitby 1986, xiii-xxx (introduction); Whitby 1988; Frendo 1988; Olajos 1988.


Discussion

The passage refers to one of the events that undermined the authority of emperor Maurice and led to his overthrow in 602. In the previous year, the customary food supplies from Egypt (annona civica) failed to be delivered to Constantinople, resulting in a famine. The people revolted and assaulted Maurice while participating in a public procession on Candlemas (2 February). The emperor was protected by his bodyguards and the procession reached safely its destination, the shrine of Mary at Blachernae where the festal liturgy of the day was celebrated.

The popular shrine of Mary was built by Marcian and Pulcheria next to the imperial palace of the Blachernae (
$E###). According to the much later Patria, Leo I (457-474) (ps.-Codinus III 75) built a special chapel known as Soros (Σορός, 'the Casket') which housed the robes of Mary brought from Palestine in 473. Simocatta's expression 'gilded shrine' (ἐν σηκῷ χρυσοπάστῳ) probably refers to the reliquary. This is the earliest reference to the relics of Mary's clothing at Blachernae and for the imperial procession to the shrine on Candlemas.

Bibliography

Edition:
de Boor, C., and Wirth, P., Theophylacti Simocattae Historiae (Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana; Leipzig: Teubner, 1972).

Translation:
Whitby, M., and Whitby, M., The History of Theophylact Simocatta: An English Translation with Introduction and Notes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).

Further reading:
Frendo, J.D.C., “History and Panegyric in the Age of Heraclius: The Literary Background of the Composition of the Histories of Theophylact Simocatta,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 42 (1988), 143-156.

Olajos, T.,
Les Sources de Théophylacte Simocatta Historien (Leiden: Brill, 1988).

Whitby, M.,
The Emperor Maurice and his Historian: Theophylact Simocatta on Persian and Balkan Warfare (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).

On the Blachernae:
Janin, R., La géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire byzantin. I: Les églises et les monastères de la ville de Constantinople. (2nd ed.; Paris, 1969), 161-171.

Mango, C., “The Origins of the Blachernae Shrine at Constantinople,” in: N. Cambi and E. Marin (eds.),
Radovi XIII međunarodnog kongresa za starokršćansku arheoligiju, Split-Poreč, 25.9.-1.10.1994. 3 vols. (Città del Vaticano and Split: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 1998), vol. 1, 61-76.

Preger, T. (ed.),
Scriptores Originum Constantinopolitanarum (Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana; Leipzig: Teubner, 1901-1907, repr. 1989), 241-242.


Record Created By

Efthymios Rizos

Date Last Modified

15/06/2020

Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΘεομήτωρCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Efthymios Rizos, Cult of Saints, E00040 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E00040