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E02774: The Greek Martyrdom of *Merkourios (soldier and martyr of Caesarea, S01293), of the 5th c. or later, recounts the legend of a soldier who excelled at war, having received a sword from an angel, and was promoted to general by the emperor Decius; he suffered martyrdom at Caesarea/Kaisareia of Cappadocia (central Asia Minor) after refusing to participate in a sacrifice. Probably written in Cappadocia.

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posted on 08.05.2017, 00:00 by erizos
Martyrdom of Merkourios (BHG 1274-1275)

Summary

1. When Decius/Dekios and Valerian reigned in Rome, they ordered everyone to sacrifice to the gods.

2. The imperial decree threatens offenders, especially Christians, with imprisonment and torture.

3. While Rome is perturbed by the decree, the barbarians start a war against the Romans, and the emperors prepare to campaign, inviting all cities to join their army. The numerus of the Martenses from Armenia Prima under the commander Satorninos joins the imperial campaign.

4. While Dekios follows the campaign, Valerian stays in Rome. The young man Merkourios of the Martenses has a vision of a huge man in white clothes, giving him a sword and encouraging him to attack the barbarians, but not to forget God. Merkourios wakes up, routes the barbarians and kills their king. The sword is stuck onto his hand by the blood.

5. Dekios makes Merkourios a general (stratelates in BHG 1274, stratopedarches/tribunus in BHG 1275), and starts his return to Rome, celebrating feasts at every single city on the way. The angel appears to Merkourios again, reminding him that he still has to struggle and suffer martyrdom for his God. Merkourios gives thanks to God and remembers his Christian parents. His father, Gordianos, was a primicerius of the Martenses. Merkourios realises that he has forgotten the Christian faith in which he was brought up, and weeps.

6. Dekios invites Merkourios to join him in offering a sacrifice to Artemis, but Merkourios refuses to attend and retires to his praetorium. A certain Katellos reports this to Decius who, incredulous, summons Merkourios.

7. Merkourios declares that he is ready to die naked, as when he was born into this world. He takes off the insignia of his dignity, namely the military cloak (chlamys) and belt, and confesses to being a Christian. Dekios is enraged but also amazed at the martyr’s courage and beauty, for he is young, blond and good looking. Merkourios has a vision in prison of an angel encouraging him.

8. Dekios interrogates Merkourios. His father, Gordianos, was a Scythian conscripted into the Martenses. Merkourios’ original name was Philopator, and he was given the name Merkourios when he joined the army.

9. Dekios has Merkourios stretched on four poles, and his body pierced by swords, while fire is burning underneath. His blood extinguishes the fire. Nearly dead, he is locked up in a room, but an angel heals his wounds.

10. Dekios summons him again and is amazed at the healing of his wounds.

11. The emperor orders that Merkourios’ cheeks be pierced by burning spears, but, instead of the smell of burning meat, a sweet fragrance comes off. Merkourios is then hanged upside down with a heavy stone hanging from his head. He is flogged and blood covers the ground.

12. Hastening to return to Rome, Dekios orders that Merkourios be taken and beheaded in Cappadocia. The soldiers bind the body of the saint, which is already cut into pieces, on a pack animal. Whenever they stop at an inn, they carefully lay it down to rest. They arrive at Caesarea, where Christ appears to Merkourios. On 25 November, he is beheaded.

13. After his death, his body becomes white like snow and very fragrant, causing many to believe in Christ. The body is buried on the spot of the saint’s martyrdom and performs miracles.

History

Evidence ID

E02774

Saint Name

Merkourios, soldier and martyr in Caesarea of Cappadocia : S01323 Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, ob. early 4th c. : S00103

Saint Name in Source

Μερκούριος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

400

Evidence not after

800

Activity not before

250

Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Kaisareia/Caesarea in Cappadocia

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Kaisareia/Caesarea in Cappadocia Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Verbal images of saints

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracle after death Miracles causing conversion Miraculous interventions in war Healing diseases and disabilities Miraculous behaviour of relics/images Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miracles experienced by the saint

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Pagans Soldiers Monarchs and their family

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body

Source

The Martyrdom of Merkourios survives in two pre-metaphrastic versions (BHG 1274 and 1275) and a metaphrastic (10th-century) version (BHG 1276), which do not differ substantially in content or length. The first version (BHG 1274, edited by Delehaye 1909, appendix IX, p. 234-242) survives in six manuscripts (10th-12th centuries): http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/17099/ The second version (BHG 1275, edited by Binon 1937, 27-39) is known from four manuscripts of the 10th to 13th centuries: http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/17100/

Discussion

The Martyrdom of Merkourios is the principal textual expression of the cult of this saint. The text and legend clearly predate the eighth century, when its Latin and Coptic translations started to circulate. Some details in the narrative also indicate late antique origins, reflecting knowledge about the institutions of the late Roman army. The blond soldier Merkourios, son of the Scythian soldier Gordianos, seems to be perceived of as a Germanic federate. It appears that the cult of Merkourios reached its full development during the fifth century, and gained substantial prominence by the early sixth. His shrine in Caesarea is not mentioned by Basil of Caesarea in the fourth century, but it is named as one of the main shrines of Anatolia by the sixth-century Itinerary of Theodosius (De situ terrae sanctae), who mentions Merkourios as the most important saint of Caesarea, together with *Mamas (S00436). By the early sixth century, he was associated with legends concerning the death of Julian the Apostate, which are first attested in Syria. The apparent development of the cult favour the idea that the saint’s legend, and perhaps a form of our text, took their shape in the fifth century. This would make the shaping of his cult and hagiography roughly contemporary with those of other major soldier saints like *Sergios of Resapha. The Martyrdom of Merkourios shares many common features with the hagiographies of these saints, which are classified as ‘epic’ – martyrdom accounts of an elaborate character, with substantial parts that are clearly legendary. The account of Merkourios preserves elements which could be associated with those epic passiones which recount martyrdom in the form of a journey. The narrative starts with an indefinite geography – we are not told where the war takes place, where Merkourios is decorated, and where he comes out as Christian. Geographical information becomes concrete when Merkourios is condemned to be martyred in Cappadocia and is taken to Kaisareia/Caesarea. Based on the fact that the Syriac sources mention Merkourios as one of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, and that his name is rendered as Mar-Qurios (‘Saint Qurios’) in the Syriac Life of Eusebius of Samosata, Peeters suggested that the cult of Merkourios in fact originates from a local version of the cult of the Forty Martyrs focusing on the figure of *Kyrion, who is the protagonist in the passio of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (E01303). This theory is attractive, given the fact that Caesarea had a shrine dedicated to the Forty Martyrs, which was probably founded by Basil of Caesarea in the fourth century (see E00718) and is not mentioned beyond the fourth century. It would seem possible that the cult housed at this shrine evolved into a focused devotion to a particular figure, endowed with a new legend. One could even read the claim of Merkourios’ legend that the saint’s military unit was based in Armenia as a reference to the ‘mother legend’ of the Forty Martyrs, who were indeed supposed to have been serving at a legion in Armenia, or as a vague memory of the fact that the cult was brought to Caesarea from Armenia. A possible problem in this theory is that it suggests that the Cappadocian cult was transformed and even changed its name under the influence of the Syriac title Mar (Kyrion – Mar Qurios – Merkourios). There are no other attestations to suggest that saints were called Mar in Cappadocia, and it is possible that the seemingly convincing sequence Kyrion – Mar Qurios – Merkourios was coincidental. This, however, does not discredit the possibility that the cult of Merkourios was an evolved version of the cult established by Basil of Caesarea for the Forty Martyrs in the fourth century. A further link could be recognised in the hagiographic linkage between Merkourios and Basil in the famous legend about the death of Julian the Apostate (E02775). It is interesting that this miracle story is absent in the martyr’s passiones discussed here. This may suggest that they predate its appearance or that the miracle story was devised outside Cappadocia.

Bibliography

Texts: BHG 1274: Delehaye, H., Les légendes grecques des saints militaires (Paris: Picard, 1909). BHG: 1275: Binon, S., Documents grecs inédits relatifs à S. Mercure de Césarée. Tradition littéraire. Tradition liturgique (Louvain: Bibliothèque de l’Université, 1937). Translation: Woods, D., "The Passion of St. Mercurius (BHG 1274)" https://www.ucc.ie/archive/milmart/BHG1274.html Further reading : Binon, S., Essaie sur le cycle de Saint Mercure. Martyr de Dèce et meurtier de l’empereur Julien (Paris: Librairie Ernest Leroux, 1937). Peeters, P., "Un miracle des SS. Serge et Theodore et la vie de S. Basile dans Fauste de Byzance," Analecta Bollandiana 39 (1921), 65-88. Walter, C., The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003).

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