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E02967: Lid of a limestone reliquary, covered by four Greek inscriptions referring to *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), *Christophoros (martyr of Pamphylia, S00616), a certain *John (probably the Baptist, S00020, or the Apostle and Evangelist, S00042), and the *Apostles, all of them with unnamed companions (?). Unknown provenance (possibly Syria), now in the Benaki Museum (Athens). Probably 5th-6th c.

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posted on 12.06.2017, 00:00 by pnowakowski
Lid of a limestone reliquary in the form of a sarcophagus. Dimensions: H. 0.215 m; W. 0.195 m. The lid, which has an unusual double-gabled shape, offers altogether four inscribed surfaces. Provenance unknown: probably Syria. Now in the Benaki Museum (Athens).

The lid was first published in 2011 by Anastasia Drandaki, in the catalogue of the exhibition Transitions to Christianity. Art of Late Antiquity, 3rd-7th century AD. The editor offered the following text of the inscriptions (in majuscule, and without line breaks):

+ μαρτύριον τοῦ +
Στεφάνου καὶ τῆς
συνοδίας αὐτοῦ +

'+ Martyr shrine/reliquary (martyrion) of + Saint Stephen and his company (synodia). +'

+ μαρτύριον τοῦ ἁγί-
ου Χριστοφόρου +
καὶ τῆς συνοδίας

'+ Martyr shrine/reliquary (martyrion) of Saint Christophoros + and the company (synodia). +'

+ μαρτύριον τῶν +
ἁγίων ἀποστόλων
καὶ τῆς + συνοδίας

'+ Martyr shrine/reliquary (martyrion) of the + holy Apostles and the + company (synodia).'

+ μαρτύριον τοῦ +
ἁγίου Ἰωάννου
καὶ τῆς + συνοδίας

'+ Martyr shrine/reliquary (martyrion) of + Saint John and the company (synodia). +'

The editor also notes finely carved crosses under the arcades of the vertical sides of the lid. Yet another cross, with triangular spreading ends of branches is present 'on the lower part of the lid'. Its lower branch develops into a base. The following inscriptions flanks the cross:

Ἰ(ησο)ῦ Χ(ριστ)έ/'O Jesus Christ!'

Text: Drandaki 2011.

History

Evidence ID

E02967

Saint Name

Apostles (unspecified) : S00084 Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Unnamed martyrs (or name lost) : S00060 Christophoros, martyr of Pamphylia : S00616 John, the Apostle and Evangelist : S00042 John the Baptist : S00020

Saint Name in Source

Ἀπόστολοι Στέφανος συνοδία Χριστοφόρος Ἰωάννης Ἰωάννης

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Inscribed objects Archaeological and architectural - Extant reliquaries and related fixtures

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

400

Evidence not after

600

Activity not before

400

Activity not after

600

Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

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

Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Places

Martyr shrine (martyrion, bet sāhedwātā, etc.)

Cult Activities - Relics

Reliquary – institutionally owned

Source

The reliquary was seen by members of the project on 1 March 2017. The label, displayed in the showcase together with the reliquary, reads: 'Lid of a limestone reliquary used for the consecration of a church. Since the late 4th century, such vessels were placed in the Sanctuary, under the altar. The inscriptions that cover the surface of the lid refer to the saints whose relics were kept in the vessel. From Asia Minor or Syria (?), 6th century.'

Discussion

The inscription, carved on the reliquary is an unusual one. First, the casket itself is apparently termed martyrion/'martyr shrine' while reliquaries were normally described as theke or larnaks (but cf. the supposed reliquary inscription from Sugane in north Syria: E01661). Second, Stephen is not named hagios/'saint', possibly due to the lack of space. However, as his name is preceded by the definite article and the other inscription clearly refers to the Apostles, termed hagoi, we can be sure that Stephen the First Martyr is the saint in question. The term synodia, which is associated with both the Apostles and Stephen, can denote a group of unnamed companions of a given saint, or, theoretically, a civic or Christian (religious) community. To us the meaning of the term is not entirely clear in the present context, especially in the case of Stephen who had no fellow martyrs. The editor suggest that the term synodia is used with reference to its appearance in martyrdom accounts. This is an interesting supposition, as the entire phrase can also be understood as 'Martyrdom (= event) of so-and-so, and the company', or as 'Martyrdom (account) of so-and-so, and the company'. Provenance: Syria is the most likely provenance, given the form of the reliquary.

Bibliography

Edition: A. Drandaki, "Lid of stone reliquary", in: A. Lazaridou (ed.), Transitions to Christianity. Art of Late Antiquity, 3rd-7th century AD: Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Onassis Cultural Center, New York City, December 7, 2011-May 14, 2012 (New York - Athens: Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation - Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 2011), 130-131, no. 90.

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