Miguel Galles

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       Assos. Prof. Dr.

       Universitat Aautònoma de Barcelona, Departament d’Art i Musicologia

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The Knight who came from the South. The Cult of Saint Menas in Late Antiquity. New 19 th century post-Byzantine icon of Saint Menas, Bulgaria.

If we start from the basis that late antiquity is limited to the period from the rise of Diocletian in 284 to the Muslim expansion and the establishment of the Carolingian empire in 800, we will see that the life and legacy of Saint Menas matches with that time lapse. Saint Menas was born in 285 and was martyred in 309, which places him at the dawn of late antiquity. And, therefore, his legacy germinates and bears fruit during this very same period. And, since then, to the present day.

In the life and martyrdom of Saint Menas there are some circumstances that are fundamental to understand his “success” as the patron of so many communities around the planet, especially in the Balkans. His condition as a Roman soldier, as well as his later condition as a hermit in the desert, in the context of his Christian essence and martyrdom, give the character a multifaceted profile that will unleash different devotions in which the underlined features point more to one or another of the qualities that have just been indicated. Both in time and space.

It should not be surprising that as a Roman soldier who declares his Christian faith and denounces paganism, being willing to die in the endeavour, his worship acquires a new dimension at the moment when not only Roman paganism but the threat of Islam strongly erupts throughout the eastern Mediterranean. The ascetic knight who faced paganism is now facing a new threat.

We will follow this process of implantation of the cult of Saint Menas during the aforementioned period, through the ampullae found in various museums around the world, the ivory plaque at Milan, the ivory pyxis of the British Museum, and the icon of Christ with Abba Menas in the Louvre Museum.

And, we will proceed to the description of a charming unpublished 19th century Bulgarian icon, a recent evidence to all that has been discussed above.


This page is part of the project LABedia: Еncyclopedia of Late Antique Balkans, 4th-5th c.,
financed by the National Science Fund, contract КП-06-Н30/6, 13.12.2018