Saint Philaretos

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Philaretus of Paphlagonia (Menologion of Basil II).jpg

Saint Philaretos lived sometime in the early 8th century. Born in Paphlagonia, Philaretos was very rich and belonged to an illustrious local aristocratic family (Byzantine Anatolian Magnates). According to the hagiography written by his grandson Niketas, Philaretos possessed unworldly generosity and gave away most of his wealth. Eventually his granddaughter, Maria of Amnia, was selected to be Empress consort of Constantine VI of the Byzantine Empire in the first recorded Bride Show.

The Hagiography written by the grandson of Saint Philaretos is noteworthy for those studying the period. The lands of Paphlagonia, for example, are described as having been raided by the "Ishmaelites", attesting to the success of Islamic raids into Byzantine territory as Paphlagonia is within a few days ride from Constantinople.

Furthermore, the work reveals the possible political undertones of Philaretos's canonization. Joining the Sainthood at the time required substantial investments, including a cult, churches built throughout the imperial territory and a sustained endowment to continually petition the Church and Bishop synods to grant Sainthood. Some historians have suggested that Niketas wrote the hagiography in order to legitimize the family and increase its prestige. Maria of Amnia, Philaretos's granddaughter, had married the emperor Constantine VI largely at the insistence of his powerful mother Empress Irene. The Bride Show might have been an attempt by Irene to marry her son to a girl with no substantial connections and thus to reduce his power. Empress Irene relentlessly maintained her power even as her son matured and the regency ended. In fact, the hagiography by Niketas refers to the Empress Irene as Basileus Irene, in the masculine conjugation of the Greek term meaning emperor. This signifies the powerful role of the Empress mother.

After the Emperor Constantine VI succeeded in wrestling power from his mother, he also divorced his wife Maria. Thus, the work of Niketas might be seen as an attempt to shore up the family's ancestry with a holy and respected figure in order to confer prestige and legitimacy in the aftermath of the divorce.

Niketas's hagiography depicted Philaretos as a fool for christ.


  • Rydén, Lennart, and Nicetas. The Life of St Philaretos the Merciful Written by His Grandson Niketas: A Critical Edition with Introduction, Translation, Notes, and Indices. Uppsala: Uppsala University Library, 2002. Print.