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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

Evagrius Scholasticus in his Ecclesiastical History reports how a panel painting of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) at a prison in Antioch turned around when the crypto-pagan official Anatolius resorted to it as a supplicant in c. 579. Dream visions of Mary are reported to have also condemned Anatolius and presaged his fall. Written in Greek at Antioch (Syria), 593/594.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Evagrius Scholasticus

Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 5.18

Anatolius was an official in Antioch, who was caught sacrificing, but managed to escape arrest by bribing the governor of the East. The people of Antioch revolted against him and the matter became known to the emperor Tiberius II Constantine.

5.18.20-35 [……] Καὶ τοσοῦτον ἤρθη τὰ τῆς ὑπονοίας, ὡς καὶ βασιλέα Τιβέριον ζητῆσαι τὴν ἀλήθειαν διὰ τῆς Ἀνατολίου φωνῆς ἐκμαθεῖν. Κελεύει δ’ οὖν καὶ Ἀνατόλιον καὶ τοὺς ἀμφ’ αὐτὸν τὴν βασιλέως τάχιστα καταλαβεῖν. Ἅπερ ἐγνωκὼς ὁ Ἀνατόλιος, ἐπί τινος εἰκόνος τῆς θεοτόκου κατὰ τὴν εἱρκτὴν καλωδίῳ αἰωρημένης ἐκδραμὼν καὶ ὀπίσω τὼ χέρε περιστρέψας, τὸν ἱκετεύοντα καὶ δεόμενον ἀπήγγειλεν. Ἡ δὲ μυσαχθεῖσα καὶ τὸν ἐναγῆ καὶ θεομισῆ διελέγχουσα, τέλεον ἐκ τοὔμπαλιν μετεστράφη, θαῦμα φρικῶδες καὶ τῆς εἰς ἀεὶ μνήμης ἄξιον. Ὅπερ ὑπὸ πάντων τῶν τε ἐμφρουρίων τῶν τε αὖ τὴν φυλακὴν αὐτοῦ καὶ τῶν ἀμφ’ αὐτὸν πεπιστευμένων ὁραθὲν τοῖς πᾶσι διηγγέλθη. Ὡράθη δὲ καὶ ὕπαρ τισὶ τῶν πιστῶν, παροτρύνουσα κατὰ τοῦ ἀλάστορος φάσκουσά τε τῷ αὐτῆς υἱῷ τὸν Ἀνατόλιον ἐνυβρίσαι.

'[……] The suspicion was raised to such an extent that even the emperor Tiberius desired to learn the truth from the mouth of Anatolius, and so he ordered that Anatolius and his associates should come as quickly as possible to the emperor’s city. When Anatolius learnt this, he rushed to an icon of the Mother of God which was hanging in the prison by a small cord and, clasping his hands behind, declared that he was a suppliant and petitioner. But She, in loathing, convicted the polluted God-hating man and turned Herself completely the opposite way round, a dreadful wonder and one worthy of remembrance for ever. This was seen by all the prisoners, as well as by those entrusted with the custody of him and his associates, and it was reported to everyone. She was also seen in a dream by some of the faithful, inciting them against the miscreant and stating that Anatolius insulted Her Son.'

Anatolius is taken to Constantinople and condemned to be devoured by beasts in the amphitheatre.

5. 18. 59-66 [……] Ἦν δέ τις τῶν παρ’ ἡμῖν ὃς καὶ πρὶν ταῦτα γενέσθαι ἔλεγε καθ’ ὕπνους ἰδεῖν ὡς ἡ κατὰ Ἀνατολίου ψῆφος καὶ τῶν ἀμφ’ αὐτὸν τῷ δήμῳ ἐδόθη. Καὶ μέγας δὲ εἷς τῶν βασιλικῶν οἰκιῶν προεστὼς ἰσχυρῶς μάλα τοῦ Ἀνατολίου ὑπερασπίζων εἰρήκει θεάσασθαι τὴν θεοτόκον λέγουσαν, μέχρι τίνος ἀντέχῃ Ἀνατολίου, οὕτως εἰς αὐτήν τε καὶ τὸν αὐτῆς παῖδα ἐνυβρίσαντος. Καὶ ταῦτα μὲν ἔληξεν ὧδε.

'[……] There was one of our number who, even before these things happened, said that he saw in dreams that the verdict against Anatolius and his associates had been granted to the populace. And a great man who was in control of the royal households and who was a particularly vigourous supporter of Anatolius, had said that he saw the Mother of God saying for how long would he support Anatolius, who had so insulted Herself and Her Son. And these things ended thus.'

Text: Bidez, Parmentier 2014. Translation: Whitby 2010.

Use of Images

Praying before an image
Touching and kissing an image
Public display of an image
Other forms of veneration of an image

Non Liturgical Activity

Seeking asylum at church/shrine
Saint as patron - of an individual
Oral transmission of saint-related stories


Punishing miracle
Miraculous behaviour of relics/images
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family


Evagrius was born in about 535 in the Syrian city of Epiphania. Educated at Antioch and Constantinople, he pursued a career as a lawyer at Antioch, serving as a legal advisor to Patriarch Gregory (570-592). He wrote the Ecclesiastical History in 593/4, with the express purpose of covering the period following the coverage of the mid 5th century ecclesiastical histories of Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret. His narrative starts with Nestorius and the Council of Ephesus (431) and stops with the death of Evagrius’ patron, Gregory of Antioch, in 592. The work offers a balanced mixture of ecclesiastical and secular events in the East Roman Empire, being best informed about Antioch and Syria. Evagrius also published a dossier of original documents from the archive of Patriarch Gregory of Antioch, which has not survived.


This episode is an important attestation of the public display of a panel icon of the Virgin in a non-cultic setting and of the practice of seeking sanctuary at the image.

Anatolius of the story was a man of modest origins, who pursued a distinguished career and served as vicar of the Praetorian Prefect of the East in Antioch in 579 (
PLRE IIIA, 72-73, 'Anatolius 3'). He fell victim to a persecution against crypto-pagans who continued practising their religion after accepting baptism, which Justinian had made compulsory.


Text and French translation:
Bidez, J., and Parmentier, L., Evagre le Scholastique, Histoire ecclésiastique (Sources Chrétiennes 542, 566; Paris, 2011, 2014), with commentary by L. Angliviel de la Beaumelle, and G. Sabbah, and French translation by A.-J.Festugière, B. Grillet, and G. Sabbah.

Other translations:
Whitby, M., The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius Scholasticus (Translated Texts for Historians 33; Liverpool, 2000).

Hübner, A.,
Evagrius Scholasticus, Historia ecclesiastica = Kirchengeschichte (Fontes Christiani 57; Turnhout, 2007).

Carcione, F.,
Evagrio di Epifania, Storia ecclesiastica (Roma, 1998).

Further Reading:
Allen, P., Evagrius Scholasticus, the Church Historian (Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense, Etudes et Documents 41; Leuven, 1981).

Treadgold, W.,
The Early Byzantine Historians (Basingstoke, 2006), 299-308.

Record Created By

Efthymios Rizos

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΘεοτόκοςCertain

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