Saint NameMary, Mother of Christ : S00033
Saint Name in Sourceπαρθένος
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Funerary inscriptions
Literary - Poems
Evidence not before300
Evidence not after400
Activity not before300
Activity not after400
Place of Evidence - RegionAsia Minor
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcLystra
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Lystra
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsSaint as patron - of an individual
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - bishops
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy
SourceTwo fragments of a broken stone in the form of a sepulchral altar, found in Dineksaray near Lystra (Lykaonia, central Asia Minor). The left-hand fragment was reused in a wall of a small garden. Dimensions: Η. 0.64 m; W. 0.5 m. The right-hand fragment was reused in the pavement of the same garden. Dimensions: H. 0.76 m; W. 0.85 m. Both fragments were first seen by William Ramsay in 1901. He made a copy, but he had to write it down hastily and without necessary caution, because the owner of the house demanded money. The site was revisited by Ramsay in 1905 (he made another copy), by William Buckler, William Calder and Christopher Cox in 1924 (they made their own copy), and by Michael Ballance and William Calder in 1954 (they made a squeeze, but the fragments were then worn and they saw less letters than Ramsay had).
DiscussionThe inscription offers us an elaborate epitaph, written in hexameter verses, for Nestor Telephides and his wife, Mammeis. William Calder completed poorly preserved final lines of the text, claiming that it was composed by a certain presbyter Gaios, who boasted of his poetical skills; but this reconstruction is highly hypothetical and later editors rejected it.
In the text Nestor addresses the passer-by and tells him the story of his life. Nestor was probably a bishop (or a chorepiskopos, an auxiliary village bishop) and certainly a man of importance. He praises himself as 'a protector of chaste widows' (χηρῶν ἐπαρωγός), 'a chosen treasure of piety of the whole province' ([εὐσε|βί]ης θησαυρὸς ἐπαρχίης ἐπίλεκτος), 'a teacher of the heavenly doctrine, instructing the youth' (δόγ[ματος | οὐ]ρανίου ὁ διδάσκαλος ἠϊθέοισιν), 'a wise and loyal judge' (σοφὸς [ἐν με|ρόπ]εσσι δικάσπολος ἔπλετο πιστός), and 'a person that advised governors and learned about many peoples' (ἡγεμόσι ξ[υνέδρευ|ον, ἴσ(?)]ασι δὲ μυρία φῦλα). He is also named 'a deacon of the abstemiousness of the Virgin' (πα̣ρθέ[νου | ἐν]κρατίης ὁ διάκονος). The latter reading, argued by all recent editors, was suggested on the basis of the squeeze made by Ballance and Calder. Earlier editors preferred different completions. Originally Ramsay read the passage as [ἔνθα δι' ἐν]κρατίης ὁ διάκονος / '[inside is] the deacon [by] the abstemiousness'; Buckler, Calder and Cox interpreted it as a reference to a deceased son of Nestor (!) buried in the same grave: π̣αῖ[ς τε] ̣ὁ̣μ[οῦ | Παν]κρατίης / 'and with him his son [Pan]kratias'; Wilhelm opted for yet another completion: χηρῶν ἐπαρωγὸς πα[τρικ]ό[ς, | ἐν]κρατίης ὁ διάκονος / 'pa[ternal] protector of chaste widows, a deacon of the [ab]stemiousness' (with no reference to the Virgin).
The expression 'a deacon of the abstemiousness of the Virgin' may mean that Nestor served in a church dedicated to Mary or was particularly devoted to her. But it is also possible that the expression was used in a metaphorical sense. The abstemious Virgin may be the Church (such a metaphor occurs, for instance, in the 2nd c. epitaph of bishop Aberkios of Hieropolis / Koçhisar in Phrygia: 'the giant pure Fish from the Source that was grasped by the chaste Virgin' // Ἰχθὺν ἀπὸ πηγῆς / πανμεγέθη καθαρόν, ὃν ἐδράξατο παρθένος ἁγνή, see SGO III 16/07/01) or even the Anatolian Encratite sect (see Mitchell 1993, 100-108) and the term deacon does not have to denote the ecclesiastical office, but may refer simply to faithful service. Therefore, the expression may perhaps be understood as follows: 'the servant of the Church', which makes it no longer an attestation of the cult of Mary.
The epitaph is probably from the 4th c., on the basis of its elaborate verse form, and, if it does refer to particular devotion to the Virgin Mary, this would be early evidence for her cult (which did not spread widely before the 5th c.).
Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten III, no. 14/12/01.
Laminger-Pascher, G. (ed.), Die kaiserzeitlichen Inschriften Lykaoniens, vol. 1: der Süden (Denkschriften, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse. Ergänzungsbände zu den tituli Asiae Minoris 15; Denkschriften, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse 232, Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1992), no. 306.
Monumenta Asiae Minoris Antiqua VIII, no. 132.
Buckler, W.H., Calder, W.M., Cox, C.W.M., "Asia Minor, 1924. I – Monuments from Iconium, Lycaonia and Isauria", The Journal of Roman Studies 14 (1924), 54-58.
Wilhelm, A., "Griechische Grabinschriften aus Kleinasien", Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (1932), 792-809, 859-860.
Ramsay, W.M., "Topography and epigraphy of Nova Isaura", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 25 (1905), 168-171.
Destephen, S., Prosopographie du Diocese d'Asie (325-641) (Prosopographie chrétienne du Bas-Empire 3, Paris: Association des amis du centre d'histoire et civilisation de Byzance, 2008), Gaios (?) 2; Mammeis; Nestôr 1.
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 6, 488.