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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

Greek inscription commemorating the construction of a church on the site of a former pagan temple, with relics of *George (soldier and martyr, S00259), who had appeared to the donor, not in a dream, but openly in a vision. Found at Izra/Zorava to the north-west of Bostra (province of Arabia). Dated 515.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

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

Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)

Literary - Poems

θεοῦ γέγονεν οἶκος τὸ τῶν δαιμόνων καταγώγιον·
φῶς σωτήριον ἔλαμψεν, ὅπου σκότος ἐκάλυπτεν·
ὅπου θυσίαι εἰδώλων, νῦν χοροὶ ἀγγέλων·
ὅπου θεὸς παρωργίζετο, νῦν θεὸς ἐξευμενίζεται.
ἀνήρ τις φιλόχριστος, ὁ πρωτεύων Ἰωάννης, Διομηδέως υἱός,
ἐξ ἰδίων δώρον θεῷ προσήνεγκεν ἀξιοθέατον κτίσμα
ἱδρύσας ἐν τούτῳ τοῦ καλλινίκου ἁγίου μάρτυρος Γεωργίου
τὸ τίμιον λίψανον τοῦ φανέντος αὐτῷ ἸωάννῃS
οὐ καθ' ὕπνον, ἀλλὰ φανερῶς. ἐν ἔτι θ΄ ἔτους υ

[6. δώρον Sartre, δῶρον Prentice || 8. ἸωάννῃS (an inexplicable sign of abbreviation) Sartre, Ἰωάννῃ Prentice || 9. υι[.] Sartre, υι Prentice]

'The abode of demons has become the house of God. The light of salvation shines where darkness caused concealment. Where sacrifices to idols occurred, now there are choirs of angels. Where God was provoked, now He is propitiated. A certain Christ-loving man, the town-councillor (
proteuon) Ioannes, son of Diomedes, offered a beautiful building to God from his own offerings, after installing within it the worthy relic (leipsanon) of the martyr George, who appeared to this Ioannes not in a dream, but manifestly. In the 9th (indiction?) year. The year 410 (?).'

IGLS 15/1, no. 177.
Translation: Trombley 1995, 363, lightly modified.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Saint as patron - of an individual
Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Construction of cult buildings
Appropriation of older cult sites


Miracle after death
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures


Transfer, translation and deposition of relics
Bodily relic - unspecified
Construction of cult building to contain relics

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives


Theorising on Sanctity

Relationships with pagan practices


A stone lintel. H. 0.55 m; W. 2.75 m. Letter height 0.05 m. The inscription is flanked by carved crosses within circles, surrounded by grapes. It is in situ, over the west gate of a church (probably monastic).

This inscription has been well known since the early 19th c. (for a full list of references and editions, see the comments on editions in the
lemma in IGLS 15/1, no. 177). It was first recorded by Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, a German traveller in the Levant who departed from Jever (Friesland in Lower Saxony) in 1802, and reached the Fayum Oasis in Egypt, via Smyrna, central Asia Minor, Aleppo, Palestine and Sinai. Being fluent in Arabic, Seetzen travelled in the disguise of a beggar and pilgrim, exploring the Dead Sea region and eventually entering Mecca where he converted to Islam. In 1811 he was reportedly poisoned by his guide, while on his way to Muscat (modern Oman). Seetzen transcribes a number of inscriptions from Zorava, including the present text. In the winter of 1810 the site was visited by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who provided the following description of the building on which the inscription was displayed 'It is a square building of about eighty-five feet each side, with a semicircular projection on the E. side; the roof is vaulted, and is supported by eight square columns, which stand in a circle in the centre of the square, and are united to one another by arches. They are about two feet thick, and sixteen high, with a single groove on each side. Between the columns and the nearest part of the wall is a space of twelve feet. The niche on the east side contains the altar. The vaulted roof is of modern construction. The building had two entrances; of which the southern is entirely walled up; the western also is closed at the top, leaving a space below for a stone door of six feet high, over which is a broad stone with the following inscription upon it.' (Burckhardt 1822, 60-61).

Details on the interior of the building were provided by James Silk Buckingham, who reached Izra in March of 1816. He says that "the interior was stuccoed, and painted with the emblem of the cross and figures of saints; and though the building is now in a ruined state it is still visited as a place of worship by the Greeks, being dedicated to Mar Georgis, or St. George, the principal saint in their calendar." (Buckingham 1825, 276).

The site was later surveyed by William Waddington who established that the inscription was located
in situ and that the church, being and octagon inscribed in a square, with a dome, was evidently modeled upon the cathedral of Bostra, which itself resembled the cathedral of Antioch, constructed under Constantine and Constantius II. Waddington noted that relics of George were still venerated in a large chapel, adjacent to the main structure.

In 1908 William Prentice republished this text with a photograph and an English translation, though the 1899/1900 American Archaeological Expedition to Syria had not investigated the site.

Based on these reports, we can conclude that we have here a place of cult of George that has been constantly in use since the early 6th c. to the 20th c.

The most recent edition, with a detailed discussion, is by Maurice Sartre in the fifteenth volume of
Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie. He saw the inscription during his survey of Zorava and took a new photograph which he used to verify earlier readings.

Roger Pearse kindly drew our attention to the website
Embrace Sacred Places, presenting a good quality colour photograph of the lintel and the entire building. See


The inscription is believed to be the earliest securely dated epigraphic testimony to the cult of George, AD 515 (for other early epigraphic testimonies to the cult of George, whose date is, however, less firmly established, see: E01076: possibly 470-484; E01689: possibly 5th c.; E01931: possibly George, 497; E04416: probably 472, 486/487, or 532). The inscription commemorates the transformation of a pagan sanctuary into a church, dedicated to the martyr by a certain Ioannes, son of Diomedes, one of the notables of the city. It is claimed that Ioannes had experienced a vision of George, not in a dream, but when he was awake. The precise character of this vision and the possible instructions he received from the saint, are not recounted. But it is stressed that, with the construction of the church, relics of the saint were deposited in the sanctuary.

Line 9 contains two dates: the first is the 9th year, the second is a larger number: probably 410 (υι = 410 is the number given by earlier editors. Sartre says that the last sign was possibly followed by another sign, perhaps α). The latter is apparently the moment of the dedication of the church, computed according to a local era. It has been erroneously suggested that the date was computed according to the Pompeian era whose year 410 falls on AD 346 and the 9th year of the reign of Constans and Constantius II. Therefore, the inscription was used by some scholars to argue the historical accuracy of the acts of George, allegedly composed before this date and soon after the martyrdom of the saint. The most reasonable possibility is, however, that the chronological system of the nearby city of Bostra (= the era of the province of Arabia) was used here, i.e. the date corresponds to AD 515. Based on this supposition, Adolf Kirchhoff, the editor of the fourth volume of
Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, suggested that the enigmatic 9th year meant the 9th year of the reign of the then emperor, Anastatius, and was the year, when Ioannes experienced his vision. If so, this would mean that this miracle happened in AD 499, 16 years before the completion of the church. But, having examined the stone, William Waddington expressed a different opinion. He rightly argued that this 9th year was the year of the indiction cycle, as double dating was frequently in use in inscriptions in the Near East. It is actually plausible that the word 'indiction' was omitted here, and Waddington's interpretation was accepted by subsequent scholars as the 9th indictional year, which corresponds to the 410th year of the era of the province of Arabia.

Waddington also offers considerations on the pagan cult that had flourished on the site, before it was replaced by a Christian sanctuary. Based on a pagan dedicatory inscription found in the church, he proposed that 'Theandrite' (literally 'God-man') had been venerated there (see: Waddington 1870, no. 2481 =
IGLS 15/1, no. 172). Such a divine entity was known also to Neoplatonic thinkers. Maurice Sartre notes that this is a possible although not the only solution as Zorava probably housed several pagan cults (e.g. of Zeus, see: IGLS 15/1, no. 173). Certainly Waddington's hypothesis needs a closer examination in the light of recent research on the Neoplatonic writings, which is beyond the scope of the present commentary.

For another elaborate building inscription found at Izra/Zorava, commemorating the construction of a church dedicated to the martyr *Sergios, that likewise superseded an earlier pagan shrine, see: E02065.

For a similar poem on the substitution of a pagan shrine with a Christian church, see E02342.


Sartre-Fauriat, A., Sartre, M., Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, vol. 15/1: Le plateau du Trachôn et ses bordures (BAH 204, Beyrouth: Institut Français du Proche-Orient, 2014), no. 176.

Restle, M., Koder. J., Architekturdenkmäler der spätantiken und frübyzantinischen Zeit im Hauran, vol. 1: Azr'a (Zora) (Veröffentlichungen zur Byzanzforschung 31, Vienna: Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2012), 59-60, no. 8.

Yon, J.-B., Gatier, P.-L. (eds.),
Choix d'inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie (Guide archéologique de l’Ifpo 6, Beirut: Presses de l’Ifpo, 2009), no. 49.

Merkelbach, R., Stauber, J.,
Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten, vol. 4 (Stuttgart: Teubner, 2002), no. 22/14/03.

Meimaris, Y.E., Kritikakou, K., Bougia, P.,
Chronological Systems in Roman-Byzantine Palestine and Arabia. The Evidence of the Dated Greek Inscriptions (Meletēmata 17, Athens: Kentron Hellēnikēs kai Rōmaikēs Archaiotētos, Ethnikon Hydryma Ereunōn, 1992), 228, no. 249.

W.K. Prentice (ed.),
Publications of an American Archaeological Expedition to Syria in 1899-1900. Part III: Greek and Latin Inscriptions (New York, 1908), no. 437a.

Dittenberger, W.,
Orientis graeci inscriptiones selectae. Supplementum sylloges inscriptionum graecarum, vol. 2 (Leipzig: Apud S. Hirzel, 1905), no. 610.

Waddington, W.H.,
Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie (Paris: Firmin Didot Frères, Libraires-Éditeurs, 1870), no. 2498 (after his own copy).

Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, vol. 4, no. 8627 (after earlier copies).

Buckingham, J.S.,
Travels among the Arab tribes inhabiting the countries east of Syria and Palestine (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825), 275 (after his own copy).

Burckhardt, J.L.,
Travels in Syria and the Holy Land (London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1822), 60-61 (after the examination of the stone).

Kruse, F., Fleischer, H.L.,
Commentare zu Ulrich Jasper Seetzen's Reisen (Berlin, 1859), 29-31.

Seetzen, U.J.,
Reisen durch Syrien, Palästina, Phönicien, die Transjordan Länder, Arabia Petrae und unter-Aegypten, vol. 1 (Berlin, 1854), 54.

Further reading:
Brown, P., The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, AD 200-1000 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 98.

Brown, P., "Enjoying the saints in Late Antiquity",
Early Medieval Europe 9/1 (2000), 4, note 14.

Key Fowden, E.,
The Barbarian Plain: St. Sergius between Rome and Iran (Transformation of the classical heritage 28, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 101.

Sartre-Fauriat, A., "Georges, Serge, Élie et quelques autres saints connus et inédits de la province d'Arabie", in: Fr. Prévot (ed.),
Romanité et cité chrétienne. Permances et mutations. Intégration et exclusion du Ier au VIe siècle. Mélanges en l'honneur d'Yvette Duval (Paris: De Boccard, 2000), 303.

Sheppard, A.R.R., “St. George and the angels. An inscribed fragment from Cappadocia”,
Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 36 (1979), 208-210 (mentioned).

Trombley, F.,
Hellenic Religion and Christianization c. 370-529, vol. 2: (Leiden: , 1995), 363.

Reference works:
Bulletin épigraphique (2014), 519.


Photograph from:

Photograph. From: IGLS 15/1, 244.

Record Created By

Paweł Nowakowski

Date of Entry


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00259George, soldier and martyr, and CompanionsΓεωργίοςCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Paweł Nowakowski, Cult of Saints, E01754 -