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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

Fragments of a Greek inscription with an oracle predicting the conversion of a pagan temple into a church dedicated to *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), also referring to an unnamed *Archangel. Found at Ikaria (the Aegean Islands). Probably 5th-6th c.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)

Literary - Other

Face A:

προφητεύοντος [- - -] Ἀπολ[λ- - -]
̣ς τινάς· τίνος ἔσ-
τε δόμος οὗτος ἲ πάλιν τίν[- - -ἔ]
̣στε; χρησμὸς ἐδό- +
θη· ἐγὸ <δ>ὲ πυθμεύο, ὅσα μὲν πρὸς ἀ[ρετὴν κα]ὶ κόσμο<ν> ὤρωρεν
ποῖτε, τρίσενα μόνον ὑψιμέδ[οντα Θεό]ν οὗ λόγος
ἄφ[θ]ειτο<ς> ἐν ἀδαῆ ἔν[κυος]
̣ἔστε, ὅσπερ γὰρ
̣ριφόρο(ν) τόξο(ν) μέσ[ον δι]αδραμῆ κόσ-
̣ν ἅπαντα, ζογρίσας π[ροσά]ξι δõρον τõ πατρί·
[αὐτῆς ἔστε δόμος· Μαρία δὲ τοὔν]ομα αὐτῆς

Face B:

[- - -]σι καὶ
̣μὰ τὸν ἀρχάνγελον καὶ τ[- -]
[- - -] ἀγαθὴ ἡμõν βασιλὶς καὶ δέσποι

Α1. προφητεύονος [Φοίβου] Ἀπόλ[λωνος πρὸ]ς τινας Hallof apud Matthaiou, προφήτευ
̣ε . . .̣Μ[ -ca. 9-]ΝΑΠΟ Bürchner, προφητεύοντος - -└ - -| | Ἀπολ[λω - -Rehm || A3. ΕΓΟΕ lapis || ΚΟΣΜΟΥ lapis || A3. κόσμο<υ> Feissel || A4. ποῖτε = πο<ι>εῖτε || A5. ΕΟΙΤΕ lapis || ἔν[κυος] or ἔν[κυμος] Matthaiou

Face A: 'Apollo prophesied: to whom will this house belong or again to whom it will belong? The oracle was given: I can foretell, do what encourages towards virtue and beauty, one triune [God, ruling from] above, whose incorruptible word is conceived in a virgin, for he will run through the whole world like a burning arrow, he will give life to it and offer it as a gift to the Father. [This house will be hers.] Her [name] is Mary.'

Face B: '[- - -] and for the Archangel and [- - -] our good Queen and Lady.'

IG XII 6,2, no. 1265. Translation: P. Nowakowski, E. Rizos.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Appropriation of older cult sites
Composing and translating saint-related texts
Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts


Two, non-conjoining, fragments of a white marble plaque (Th. 0.075 m). Fragment A: broken and lost on the right-hand side and on the left lower corner. H. 0.43 m; W. 0.9 m. Fragment B: broken on the left-hand side and on the lower right-hand corner. H. 0.0445 m; W. 0.53 m.

Fragment A was brought from a place named Fanári to the village of Agios Kirikos (Ikaria) by a local. Now lost. Fragment B is now in the Museum of the village of Kampos (Ikaria), it had been found in a local house. It is possible that the inscription was related to the basilica near Oinoe, presumably dedicated to Mary in late antiquity (now to Hagia Eirene).

Both fragments were seen and copied by Ludwig Bürchner and Albert Rehm at the turn of the 20th c. Fragment B was revisited and photographed by Angelos P. Matthaiou in 1995.

The plaque was inscribed on two faces (Face A: letter height 0.03-0.04 m; Face B: letter height 0.025 m). Face A bears two holes, apparently cut when the plaque was reused. On the right-hand margin of Face A there is a carving of a cross.


The inscription on Face A reproduces the text of an oracle, ascribed to Apollo, foretelling the transformation of a pagan shrine into a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It appears in several accounts of the 5th and 6th c. Christian authors. For a discussion, see: Agusta-Boularot 2006, 103-105.

Among the earliest writers alluding to this oracle, we have Theodotos, bishop of Ankyra (Galatia, central Asia Minor) and a participant of the council of Ephesos 431. He mentions the prophecy in
Homilia in Deiparam et in nativitatem Domini 14, PG 77, 1430 (written before his death in 446). It was also known to the author of a theological treatise, dating to the late 5th c.: the so-called Theosophia Tubingensi (ed. Erbse) §§ 53-54.

Angelos P. Matthaiou notes that the text found on the island of Ikaria, and discussed here, is very close to the version offered by John Malalas in his 6th c.
Chronicle (IV 8; E05665), and hence come the substantial completions. Malalas says that the inscription from which he copied the text was displayed in the sanctuary of Rhea in Kyzikos (Hellespontus, northwest Asia Minor), believed to have been founded by the Argonauts. According to Malalas, the Argonauts, having killed the king of Kyzikos, constructed there a temple. The newly-established shrine, however, lacked a dedicatee, so they departed for the nearby oracle of Pythia Therma (probably at modern Yalova in Bithynia or at the thermae of Gunen near Kyzikos, see: Hasluck 1910, 102) to enquire about the proper dedication. Apollo answered, in words that were much alike our oracle, that he foresees the coming of the tripartite God, conceived by a virgin, called Maria, which inclined the Argonauts to dedicate the temple to Rhea (the mother of the pagan Gods) and inscribe the oracle on a marble plaque, inlaid with bronze letters, over the entrance. Malalas does not say whether he saw the inscription himself, but claims that the prophecy was fulfilled when the shrine was converted to a church of Mary, Mother of Christ, by the emperor Zeno in 474-491. Raymond Janin suggested that the sanctuary mentioned in this legend was the monastery of the God-Bearer on the mount of Dindymos.

It is very probable that the text really was displayed on the new Christian sanctuary and became the source for the author of our inscription, as Ikaria lies not very far from Kyzikos. The oracle is also known to have existed in at least one more monumental inscription, displayed over the gate of christianised Parthenon in Athens.

The text inscribed on Face B, possibly a hymn, refers to an unnamed archangel and again Mary, Mother of Christ. Therefore it may be an account of the annunciation by the archangel *Gabriel. It was probably carved later than the former text.

Dating: 5th or 6th c., based on the literary context of the inscribed text.


Inscriptiones Graecae XII 6,2: Inscriptiones Icariae insulae (nos. 1217-1292), ed. Angelos P. Matthaiou, no. 1265.

Matthaiou, A.P., Papadopoulos, G.K., Ἐπιγραφὲς Ἰκαρίας (Athens: Greek Epigraphic Society/Hellenike Epigraphike Hetaireia, 2003), 61-65.

Further reading:
Agusta-Boularot, S., "Malalas épigraphiste? Nature et fonction des citations épigraphiques dans la
Chronique", in: S. Agusta-Boularot et al., Recherches sur la Chronique de Jean Malalas, vol. 2 (Monographies, Centre de recherche d'histoire et civilisation de Byzance 24, Paris : Association des amis du centre d'histoire et civilisation de Byzance, 2006), 103-105.

Busine, A., "The discovery of inscriptions and the legitimation of new cults", in B. Dignas, R.R.R. Smith (eds.),
Historical & Religious Memory in the Ancient World (Oxford: OUP, 2012), 241-256.

Deligiannakis, G., "Late paganism on the Aegean Islands and processes of Christianisation", in: L. Lavan, M. Mulryan (eds.),
The Archaeology of Late Antique ‘Paganism’ (Leiden – Boston: Brill, 2011), 325–327.

Deligiannakis, G., "Εκχριστιανίζοντας τις νησιωτικές κοινότητες του ανατολικού Αιγαίου. Η περίπτωση της νήσου Ικαρίας [Christianizing island communities in the Eastern Aegean. The case of Ikaria]", Δελτίον της Χριστιανικής Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας 36 (2015), 264-266.

Deligiannakis, G., "Heresy and late antique epigraphy in an island landscape: exploring the limits of the archaeological evidence", in: K. Bolle, C. Machado, C. Witschel (eds.),
The Epigraphic Culture(s) of Late Antiquity (Heidelberger Althistorische Beiträge und Epigraphische Studien, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2017), 524-525.

Hasluck, F.W.,
Cyzicus: being some account of the history and antiquities of that city, and of the district adjacent to it with the towns of Apollonia ad Rhyndoveum, Miletupolis, Hadrianutherae, Priapus, Zeleia, etc. (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press 1910), 102.

Janin, R.,
La géographie ecclésiastique de l'Empire Byzantin, vol. 1: Le siège de Constantinople et le patriarcat oecuménique. Les Églises et les monastères des grands centres byzantins (Paris 1975), 203-205.

Reference works:
Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine, 240.

Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 53, 904.


Fragment B with the right-hand end of the inscription on Face A. From: Deligiannakis 2015, 265.

Record Created By

Paweł Nowakowski

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΜαρίαCertain
S00191Archangels, unnamed or name lostἀρχάνγελοςCertain
S00192Gabriel, the ArchangelUncertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Paweł Nowakowski, Cult of Saints, E01218 -