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Demetrius of Thessaloniki

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Demetrius of Thessalonica
12th-century mosaic depicting Saint Demetrius, from the Golden-Roofed Monastery in Kyiv
Great-Martyr, Myroblyte
Thessalonica, Macedonia, Roman Empire
Died306 or 305
Thessalonica, Macedonia, Roman Empire
Venerated in
Major shrineHagios Demetrios, Thessaloniki
FeastOrthodox Churches: 26 October and on All-Saints of Salonica (aka Thessalonica and Thessaloniki), on 3rd Sunday of Pascha (Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women); Roman Catholic Church: 9 April & 8 October
Attributesdepicted wearing the armour of a Roman soldier, usually carrying a spear, often seated on a red horse
PatronageThessaloniki, Siberia, Sremska Mitrovica, Kosovska Mitrovica, Calgary; soldiers;[1] Crusades (in Roman Catholic tradition);[1] agriculture, peasants and shepherds (in the Greek countryside during Middle Ages);[2] construction industry in Bulgaria

Saint Demetrius (or Demetrios) of Thessalonica (Greek: Ἅγιος Δημήτριος τῆς Θεσσαλονίκης, Hágios Dēmḗtrios tēs Thessaloníkēs[a]), also known as the Holy Great-Martyr Demetrius the Myroblyte (meaning 'the Myrrh-Gusher' or 'Myrrh-Streamer';[b] 3rd century – 306), was a Greek Christian martyr of the early 4th century AD.

During the Middle Ages, he came to be revered as one of the most important Orthodox military saints, often paired with Saint George of Lydda. His feast day is 26 October for Eastern Orthodox Christians, which falls on 8 November [NS, "new style"] for those following the old calendar. In the Roman Catholic Church he is most commonly called "Demetrius of Sermium" and his memorial is 9 April in the 2004 Roman Martyrology and 8 October in the martyrology of the Extraordinary Form.


St Demetrius of Salonica, 18th century, Walters Art Museum

The earliest written accounts of his life were compiled in the 9th century, although there are earlier images of him, and the 7th-century Miracles of Saint Demetrius collection. According to these early accounts, Demetrius was born to pious Christian parents in Thessaloniki, Macedonia in 270.[3]

According to the hagiographies, Demetrius was a young man of senatorial family who became proconsul of the Thessalonica district. He was run through with spears in around 306 in Thessaloniki, during the Christian persecutions under the emperor Galerius,[4] which matches his depiction in the 7th-century mosaics.

Martyrdom of Demetrius of Thessalonica, depicted in the 11th century Menologion of Basil II.

Veneration of sainthood and celebrations


Evolution during Byzantine Empire


Transfer to Thessaloniki; gaining of military attributes


Most historical scholars follow the hypothesis put forward by Bollandist Hippolyte Delehaye (1859–1941), that his veneration was transferred from Sirmium[5] when Thessaloniki replaced it as the main military base in the area in 441/442 AD. His very large church in Thessaloniki, the Hagios Demetrios, dates from the mid-5th century.[6] Thessaloniki remained a centre of his veneration, and he is the patron saint of the city.

After the growth of his veneration as saint, the city of Thessaloniki suffered repeated attacks and sieges from the Slavic peoples who moved into the Balkans, and Demetrius was credited with many miraculous interventions to defend the city. Hence later traditions about Demetrius regard him as a soldier in the Roman army, and he came to be regarded as an important military martyr.[7]

From pagan Demeter to St Demetrios


Demetrius was also venerated as patron of agriculture, peasants and shepherds in the Greek countryside during the Middle Ages. According to historian Hans Kloft, he had inherited this role from the pagan goddess Demeter. After the demise of the Eleusinian Mysteries, Demeter's cult, in the 4th century, the Greek rural population had gradually transferred her rites and roles onto the Christian saint Demetrius.[2]

During the Crusades


Unsurprisingly, he was extremely popular in the Middle Ages. Disputes between Bohemond I of Antioch and Alexios I Komnenos appear to have resulted in Demetrius being appropriated as patron saint of crusading.[7]


Relics of Saint Demetrius at the Hagios Demetrios Basilica in Thessaloniki

Most scholars still believe that for four centuries after his death, Demetrius had no physical relics, and in their place an unusual empty shrine called the "ciborium" was built inside Hagios Demetrios. What were purported to be his remains subsequently appeared in Thessaloniki, but the local archbishop John, who compiled the first book of the Miracles ca. 610, was publicly dismissive of their authenticity.[8] The relics were assumed to be genuine after they started emitting a liquid and strong-scented myrrh. This gave Demeterius the epithet Myroblyte.[3][c]

Veneration in Orthodox world outside Greece

15th-century icon of St Demetrius (Russian State Museum, Saint Petersburg)

Demetrius was a patron saint of the Rurik dynasty from the late 11th century on. Izyaslav I of Kiev (whose Christian name was Dimitry) founded the first East Slavic monastery dedicated to this saint.[citation needed]

In the Russian Orthodox Church, the Saturday before the Feast of Saint Demetrius is a memorial day commemorating the soldiers who fell in the Battle of Kulikovo (1380), under the leadership of Demetrius of the Don. This day is known as Demetrius Saturday.[10]

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church revere Demetrius on 26 October (Димитровден [Dimitrovden] in Bulgarian); meanwhile, the Serbian Orthodox Church and Macedonian Orthodox Church (Ohrid) and the Coptic Church have a feast on 8 November (called Митровдан [Mitrovdan] in Serbian and Митровден [Mitrovden] in Macedonian).

Derived personal names


The names Dimitar (Bulgarian and Macedonian), Dimitry (Russian), Dimitris (Δημήτρης, Greek), Mitri (short form of Dimitri in Lebanon) are in common use.


Byzantine icon of the 10th century: Demetrios as infantryman (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The hagiographic cycles of the Great Martyr Demetrius of Thessaloniki include depictions of scenes from his life and his posthumous miracles.[11] Demetrius was initially depicted in icons and mosaics as a young man in patterned robes with the distinctive tablion of the senatorial class across his chest. Miraculous military interventions were attributed to him during several attacks on Thessaloniki, and he gradually became thought of as a soldier: a Constantinopolitan ivory of the late 10th century shows him as an infantry soldier (Metropolitan Museum of Art). But, an icon of the late 11th century in Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai shows him as before, still a civilian. In Byzantine icons he is depicted in military dress, either standing or riding a horse.[12]

Modern Bulgarian icon of Demetrius spearing the gladiator Lyaeus, who is dressed in rather Turkish style (1824).

Another Sinai icon, of the Crusader period and painted by a French artist working in the Holy Land in the second half of the 12th century, shows what then became the most common depiction. Demetrius, bearded, rather older, and on a red horse, rides together with George, unbearded and on a white horse.[13] Both are dressed as cavalrymen. Also, while George is often shown spearing a dragon, Demetrius is depicted spearing the gladiator Lyaeus (Λυαίος Lyaíos; for meaning see here), who according to story was responsible for killing many Christians. Lyaeus is commonly depicted below Demetrius and lying supine, having already been defeated; Lyaeus is traditionally drawn much smaller than Demetrius. In traditional hagiography, Demetrius did not directly kill Lyaeus, but rather through his prayers the gladiator was defeated by Demetrius' disciple, Nestor.[11]

A modern Greek iconographic convention depicts Demetrius with the Great White Tower in the background. The anachronistic White Tower acts as a symbolic depiction of the city of Thessaloniki, despite having been built in the 16th century, centuries after his life, and the exact architecture of the older tower that stood at the same site in earlier times is unknown. Again, iconography often depicts saints holding a church or protecting a city.

According to a hagiographic legend, best known in Russia in the version retold by Dimitry of Rostov (1651–1709), Demetrius appeared in the camp of tsar Kaloyan of Bulgaria during his 1207 siege of Thessaloniki, piercing the king with a lance and so killing him. This scene, known in Russian as Чудо о погибели царя Калояна ("the miracle of the destruction of tsar Kaloyan") became a popular element in the iconography of Demetrius. He is shown on horseback piercing the king with his spear,[14] paralleling the iconography (and often shown alongside) of Saint George and the Dragon.

See also



  1. ^ Russian: Димитрий Солунский (Dimitry Solunsky); Bulgarian: Димитър Солунски (Dimitar Solunski); Macedonian: Свети Димитрија Солунски (Sveti Dimitrija Solunski); Romanian: Sfântul Dumitru, Sfântul Dimitrie; Serbian: Димитрије Солунски; Albanian: Shmitri (Kosovo) and Shën Dhimitri (Albania); Ukrainian: Димитрій Солунській
  2. ^ Greek: Ἅγιος Μεγαλομάρτυς Δημήτριος ὁ Μυροβλύτης (Hágios Megalomártys Dēmḗtrios ho Myroblýtēs)
  3. ^ This epithet is shared with other Orthodox saints: e.g. Saint Nilus of Kynouria, Saint Barbarus.[9]


  1. ^ a b Roth (1993), p. 36.
  2. ^ a b Kloft (2010), p. 25.
  3. ^ a b "Saint Demetrius Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral". Archived from the original on 2016-02-06. Retrieved 2013-01-17.
  4. ^ "Holy, Glorious Demetrius the Myrrh-gusher of Thessalonica". www.oca.org. Retrieved 2020-09-26.
  5. ^ Woods 2000, pp. 223–5
  6. ^ ""Museum in the Crypt of the Church of St. Demetrios", Macedonian Museums". Archived from the original on 2015-01-01. Retrieved 2013-04-21.
  7. ^ a b Lapina, Elizabeth (2009). "Demetrius of Thessaloniki: Patron Saint of Crusaders". Viator. 40 (2): 93–112. doi:10.1484/J.VIATOR.1.100423. ISSN 2031-0234.
  8. ^ Cormack p. 75
  9. ^ Kurian, George; Nelson, Thomas (2001). Nelson's Dictionary of Christianity. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 9781418539818.
  10. ^ "Lives of the Saints". www.oca.org. Retrieved 2020-09-26 – via kontakia · All troparia. All lives of saints.
  11. ^ a b "Russian Icons". www.iconrussia.ru. Retrieved 2020-09-26.
  12. ^ "Saint Demetrios, The Myrrh-Streamer", The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Demetrios
  13. ^ "SAINT DEMETRIUS PILGRIMAGE CHURCH, THESSALONIKI". Μοναστήρια της Ελλάδος. 2017-01-10. Retrieved 2020-09-26.
  14. ^ "St Demetrius of Thessaloniki", Ruzhnikov


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