Military saint

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Four Military Saints by Michael Damaskinos (16th century, Benaki Museum), showing St George and St Theodore Teron on the left, and St Demetrios and St Theodore Stratelates on the right, all on horseback, with angels holding wreaths over their heads, beneath Christ Pantokrator.
Triptych of the Bogomater flanked by Saints George and Demetrius as horsemen (dated 1754)
This article is about the Christian concept. For warrior saints in Sikhism, see Sant Sipahi. For Christian patron saints of the military, see Patron saints of the military.

The military saints or warrior saints (also called soldier saints) of the Early Christian Church are Christian saints who were soldiers in the Roman Army during the persecution of Christians, especially the Diocletian persecution of AD 303–313.

Most of these saints are martyrs, soldiers of the Empire who had become a Christian and refusing to participate in rituals of loyalty to the Emperor (see Imperial cult), subjected to corporal punishment that escalates to torture and eventually martyred.

The characteristic of the military saints is their depiction as soldiers in traditional Byzantine iconography from about the 10th century (Macedonian dynasty) and especially also in Slavic Christianity.[1] While early icons showed the saints in "classicizing" attire, icons from the 11th, and especially from the 12th century, painted in the new style of τύπων μιμήματα, i.e. imitating nature, are an important source for Byzantine military equipment of the medieval period.[2]

Veneration of these saints, most notably of Saint George, also entered Western tradition during the time of the Crusades.

The title of "champion of Christ" (athleta Christi) was originally used for these saints, but in the late medieval period also conferred on contemporary rulers by the Pope.

Significance[edit]

In Late Antiquity other Christian writers of hagiography, like Sulpicius Severus in his account of the heroic, military life of Martin of Tours, created a literary model that reflected the new spiritual, political, and social ideals of a post-Roman society. In a study of Anglo-Saxon soldier saints (Damon 2003), J.E. Damon has demonstrated the persistence of Sulpicius's literary model in the transformation of the pious, peaceful saints and willing martyrs of late antique hagiography to the Christian heroes of the early Middle Ages, who appealed to the newly converted societies led by professional warriors and who exemplified accommodation with and eventually active participation in holy wars that were considered just.[3] A similar development in the cult of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki has been observed; although always described as a soldier, depictions of him were in civilian dress for centuries until around the turn of the millennium, after which he is nearly always shown fully armed.

The angelic prototype of the Christian soldier-saint is the Archangel Michael, whose earliest known cultus began in the 5th century with a shrine at Monte Gargano. The cult of soldier-saints followed the transformation of Michael into a Christian figure.

The Orthodox military saints are on the whole more prominent in the respective devotions of their churches than the Catholic ones, especially as the military crisis of the Byzantine Empire deepened. They are usually shown fully equipped for fighting, unlike many Catholic military saints. The most important are Saint George, Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki (these two very often paired, riding on horseback or on foot in icons), Saint Theodore the General, and Saint Theodore the Recruit. It is noticeable that a historical basis for all of these is essentially lacking.

Of these St George was imported to the West during the period of the Crusades.

List of Military saints[edit]

Further information: List of early Christian saints
Further information: 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia
Name Date of martyrdom Location
St. Acacius c. 303 Byzantium
St. Andrew the General c. 300 Cilicia
St. Demetrius 304 Sirmium
Ss. Emeterius and Chelidonius c. 300 Calagurris in Hispania Tarraconensis
St. Florian c. 303 Lauriacum in Noricum
St. George c. 303 Nicomedia in Bithynia
St. Maurice and the Theban Legion 287 Agaunum in Alpes Poeninae et Graiae
St. Maximilian 295 Tebessa in Africa Pronsularis
St. Marcellus 298 Tingis in Mauretania Tingitana
St. Menas c. 309 Cotyaeum in Phrygia
St. Mercurius 250 Caesarea in Cappadocia
Ss. Sergius and Bacchus c. 305 Resafa and Barbalissus in Syria Euphratensis
St. Theodore 306 Amasea in Helenopontus
St. Typasius the Veteran 304 Tigava in Mauretania Caesariensis
St. Varus c. 307 Egypt
St. Victor the Moor c. 303 Milan in Italy
St. Nicetas the Goth 372 Dacia
Forty Martyrs of Sebaste 320 Sebaste

Iconography[edit]

Eastern
Western

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The 'warrior saints' or 'military saints' can be distinguished from the huge host of martyrs by the pictorial convention of cladding them in military attire." (Grotowski 2010:2)
  2. ^ (Grotowski 2010:400)
  3. ^ Damon, John Edward. Soldier Saints and Holy Warriors: Warfare and Sanctity in the Literature of Early England. (Burlington (VT): Ashgate Publishing Company), 2003, ISBN 0-7546-0473-X
  • Monica White, Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900–1200 (2013).
  • Christopher Walter, The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition (2003).
  • Piotr Grotowski, Arms and Armour of the Warrior Saints: Tradition and Innovation in Byzantine Iconography (843–1261), Volume 87 of The Medieval Mediterranean (2010).

External links[edit]