Ten Saints Images

Icon of the Ten Saints
Russian: Yaroslavl region
Seventeenth century
7" x 6 1/4"
Notre Dame: Snite Museum of Art 24.1.47
Gift of C.A. Wightman

This sixteenth century icon, originally forming half of a diptych, portrays ten saints. The recessed center of the board or kovtcheg, contains two ordered rows of saints. The top row depicts five of the saints, from left to right, Basil the Great (VasilÔ? Ve. the abbreviation for Belika), Gregory the Theologian (Grigor?? Bo. for Bogoslova), John Chrysostom (???nn? ??. for ????oý??agw), Nicholas the Wonderworker (Nikola? Xo. for ?ý?????????), and Paisios (Pr. [for Prepodo?n?\] Pais??ī).

Basil appears wearing a phelonion of a red cross pattern on a white ground with the omophorion of a bishop. He carries a Gospel book and giving a blessing. His long, dark, and thin beard identifies him as Basil the Great in the traditional iconographic style. (1) As one of the Three Holy Hierarchs Basil, along with Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, is commemorated on January thirtieth. Born in Caesarea of Cappadocia in 329, Basil dedicated himself to academic study in Athens until the age of twenty-eight. Through the prayers and encouragement of his sister, Macrina, Basil chose to pursue the monastic life. (2) Recognizing the value of active participation within a faith community, Basil founded a cenobic monastery outside of Caesarea. This physical contribution combined with his later theological writings outlined his ideals concerning proper monastic way of life. Because of his dedicated service, he earned the title within the East of "Father of Monastic Communities". (3) Basil was ordained to the priesthood in 363 and elected to serve as archbishop of Caesarea in 370. (4) During this time, Basil firmly defended the faith against the teachings of Arianism, composing a number of books and other works addressing the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity. Saint Basil died in 379, and is honored in the liturgical calendar on January 1.

Next to Basil, Gregory is seen wearing a sakkos of green with white crosses and a omophorion. He carries a Gospel book, and gives a blessing. His forehead is high and his wide, rather than long, beard all characterize Gregory the Theologian. (5) Gregory served as Patriarch of Constantinople and was later honored as one of the Three Holy Heirarchs. Gregory was born around 329 in Arianzos to Saints Gregory, the Bishop of Nazianzos, and Nonna. (6) In his youth, he studied in Athens and there befriended Basil the Great. After finishing his education, his father ordained him to the priesthood. (7) Gregory lived an ascetical life with Basil the Great in the deserts of Egypt, but soon returned to Nazianzos to fight Arian heresy. Gregoryís success in convincing the people of Nazianzos of the orthodox understanding of the Trinity led to his ordination as bishop in 380, succeeding his father.(8) As bishop, Gregory faced the challenge of spreading the faith during the reign of the Byzantine emperor, Julian the Apostate. Gregory was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople, and worked until his death around 390 defining and teaching the true doctrines of the church.(9) His feast day is January 25.

John is next wearing a red sakkos with white crosses and omophorion, carring a Gospel book, and giving a blessing. He has a short, thin beard like St. Cosmos and curly hair. Although his name is partially obscured by damage to the icon, the saint clearly embodies the traits of John Chrysostom. Saint John Chrysostom is honored with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs. John was born between 340 and 350, and raised by his widowed mother.(10) He studied in Athens and became renowned for his eloquent speech, especially in elaborating on the Christian faith. Having completed his schooling, John entered the monastic life where he instructed many in the faith and performed miracles. Following the death of Patriarch Nectarios of Constantinople, John was installed as his successor despite his reluctance to accept the position.(11) During that time, he composed both scriptural exegesis and responses to the rapidly spreading Arian heresy. He also adamantly and openly opposed the greed and abuses of power prevalent among the nobility of Constantinople and publicly enumerated the offenses which he perceived. Because of this, John soon lost the support of the Empress Eudocia and was exiled. On the way to his place of exile, in the year 407, Saint John Chrysostom died. His feast is celebrated on November 13, with the feast of the translation of his relics from the city of Komana to Constantinople in 435 on January 27.

The fourth saint, Nicholas wears a light colored phelonion and bishopís omophorion, carries a Gospel book, and gives a blessing.(12) As the inscription indicates, he is Nicholas the Wonderworker, Bishop of Myra in Lycia. His feast day is December sixth. Nicholas, revered for his dedication to the true faith, worked many miracles both in life and after his death. From a young age, Nicholas served the poor and needy through prayer and selfless generosity. He remained dedicated to the faith, enduring imprisonment under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian and defending the Church against the teachings of Arius. It is traditionally held that Nicholas died some time during the reign of Constantine I, between 306 and 338. When in 1081, his relics were to be transferred to Bari, Italy, a sweet ointment was found flowing from them.(13) Nicholas is honored as the patron of children, travelers, and Russia.(14)

Paisios wears the monastic schema and carries a rolled scroll. The specific identity of this saint is not given, however he resembles both Saint Paisios of Uglich who died in 1504, and the fifth-century, Paisios the Great. Because the late dates of Paisios of Uglich contrast the dates of the other nine saints who were within the first thousand years of Christianity, it is likely that this saint represents Paisios the Great. The description of Paisios the Great provided by the Iconographerís Notebook mentions only that he carries an inscribed scroll, represented within this icon by the rolled scroll within his left hand.(15) The similarity between the physical features, especially the long, oblong beard, shown in other icons of the saint further supports his identity. The saint in this icon wears the monastic schema, a designation not mentioned in the descriptions of Paisios the Greatís vestments. When Paisios the Great was a small child, his widowed mother entrusted him to the local monastic community to be raised. There he devoted himself to fasting and prayer, eventually retreating to the seclusion of the surrounding Egyptian desert. Other monks soon joined Paisios, forming a community under the saintís guidance.(16) Again seeking solitude, Paisios retreated further into the desert. He continually emphasized the value of those deeds of faith performed in secret and, because of his extreme dedication to the faith, was able to work miracles which led people to the faith.(17) The feast of Paisios the Great is celebrated on June 19.

The bottom row portrays Saints Peter (PetrJ), Onuphrios (An_frW9), John (Z0nJ), Stephan (@. [for Archdeacon] Stefan]), and possibly Anthony (Arűan). Peter wears a reddish fur tunic, has a long beard which extends to the ground, and his hands are crossed over his chest. The icon does not provide this saintís specific identity; however, his dress characterizes him as an ascetic, so he is most likely Peter of Athos. Peter of Athos served as a soldier in the Byzantine Empire until in 667, when he was captured and imprisoned.(18) Reflecting upon the spiritual state of his life and the circumstances which could have brought about this punishment, Peter recalled his earlier intention to join a monastery. He attributed the hardships of prison to his neglect of his vocation. While still in jail, Peter undertook a life of fasting and prayer, praying especially that Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker might guide him to become a monastic. Through the intercession and miraculous intervention of Saints Nicholas and Simeon the God-Receiver, Peter was freed from prison and led to Rome where he received his tonsure from the Pope.(19) After serving the Pope for a brief time, Peter journeyed east, where the Mother of God directed him to live upon Mount Athos. Saint Peter dwelt as a hermit on the mountain, enduring the attacks of the devil and surviving on manna. In his final days, Peter encountered another man, whom he inspired with his faith. At Peterís insistence, the man told no one else of the hermitís existence. The following year, in 734, when the man returned to see Peter again, he found the saint deceased.(20) Peter of Athos is commemorated on June 12.

To the right of Peter, Onuphrios is girded with leaves, has a beard which reaches to the ground, and is shown with his hands crossed over his chest. Onuphrios dwelt in isolation within the deserts of Egypt around the year 400. He began his vocation in the monastery where he had been raised, but felt called to partake of the life of the desert-dwellers. Onuphrios left the monastery and followed a miraculous beam of light into the desert. For a time he lived under the guidance of an elder monastic before retreating further into the wilderness. The saint survived on miraculously supplied dates and water, and received the Eucharist from an angel twice a week.(21) After sixty years in the desert, Onuphrios died. He shares June 12 with Peter of Athos as his feast day.

John wears a phelonion with a red cross pattern on a white background and an omophorion. He carries a Gospel book and gives a blessing, and has a long beard. Although his title is not given with his name, based upon the pattern of his vestments and given the significance of his writings to the Russian Church, the saint is most likely John the Faster.(22) Saint John the Faster served as the Patriarch of Constantinople from 582 until 595, during which time he dedicated his life to spiritual exercises including extreme fasting and constant prayer. He worked many miracles, delivering Constantinople from plague and foreign invasion, and healing the physically and spiritually infirm.(23) As Patriarch, John sought unsuccessfully to expand the theological influence of the Eastern Church over that of the Church of Rome. John the Faster encouraged the confession of sins by refining traditional penances, and encouraging confessors to administer these penances according to the spiritual state of each individual. (24) The monastic rules developed by John the Faster were preserved and promoted within the Greek and later the Russian Church as the central rule guiding monastic life. His feast day is September 2.

Archdeacon Stephan is a young man, wearing the white sticharion of a deacon and a red martyrís cloak. He carries a censer and a stone which symbolize his ecclesiastical office and the means of his death. This saint clearly represents Stephan the Protomartyr, the deacon within the early church whose stoning is recounted in Acts. Stephan defended the Christian faith before the Jewish Sanhedrin, condemning them for their refusal to listen to the messages of the prophets and the Messiah. While he spoke, Stephan witnessed a vision of Christ enthroned at the side of the Father. Angered at his words, the members of the Sanhedrin seized Stephen and took him outside the city wall where they stoned him. Stephan is revered as the first martyr of the Church and his feast is December 27.

The tenth saint wears a monastic schema. He gives a blessing and carries a scroll. The identity of the saint is unclear as the name is difficult to read, however, given his significance within the monastic tradition, the saint is most likely Anthony the Great. Anthony was born in Egypt in 251, and raised in a Christian household.(25) After the death of his parents, Anthony sold all that he owned, distributed the money among the poor, and pursued a solitary life of ascetical works outside of the village of his birth. During this time, Anthony fought against the relentless attacks of the devil who appeared to him in various forms tempting him to renounce his faith. When he was thirty-five years old, Anthony withdrew to the desert where he lived alone in an abandoned fortress. Other monks joined him, imitating his pious way of life, thus creating the first monastery in 305.(26) Anthony chose leave the community to find solitude further away in the desert. He continued working miracles for those in need and instructed others in matters of faith, even the emperor, Constantine the Great, and his son.(27) Anthony died on January 17, 356. He is commemorated on this day and honored as the Father of Monasticism.

The saints are painted within a square recessed into the panel known as a kovtcheg. Surrounding the saints is a wide border or pole of ocher, edged with dark brown and red. The names of the saints in the top row are written within the border. The border has many nail holes, some with traces of cloth, indicating the presence of both a cloth and metal cover or riza added to the icon after it was separated from the other half of the diptych.

The sides of the panel were originally painted. At two places on the left side of the icon, hinges were initially attached. Wooden plugs have been inserted into both the left and right side of the icon after the icon was separated from the other half of the diptych. The intrusion of the plugs into the location of the original hinges indicates that they are a later addition. Both sides of the icon also contain nail holes from the covers which were attached.

The back of the icon was originally red with a dark blue border, although most of the paint has come off. The varnish too, is coming off, obscuring much of the original design. The panel is split from top to bottom and contains four nail holes. In the center, the top and middle bars of a cross surrounded by a circular frame of dark blue is visible. Within the circle is an alternating pattern of six white rays and white dots, and along its edges is a thin white border. Around the outer perimeter of the circle is an alternating pattern of diamonds and half-circles. A series of abbreviations describing the crucifixion surround the cross. At the side of the head of the cross is the inscription XC. This abbreviation for "Christ" typically appears with the abbreviation for Jesus, IC or !. These letters however, are no longer visible. Under the ends of the middle bar of the cross, the letters  are visible. The meaning of this inscription is unknown. Because of the poor condition of the original varnish, it is possible that the letters read &, the second half of &, for 8ACAJ 070@0=8=J &0@L C459A:W8, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." (28) NI  appears below the middle bar meaning  conquers . From left to right along the base of the cross are the letters  . This is the abbreviation for JAB> >1=>5 09 KABL, which means "the place of the skull has become paradise." (29) Beneath the cross, a skull can be seen.

To establish the era in which this icon was painted, it is necessary to identify the distinguishing features of the piece and compare these characteristics to icons of known dates. The saints within this icon are depicted in a flat and simplistic manner. Their garments contain few folds as they drape about the figures, and appear stiff. Only minimal embellishments of galloon and simple fabric patterns adorn the vestments of the ordained saints. The flesh tone utilized on the various figures shifts from a dark brown sankir, the foundation color of the skin and hair, to lighter reddish-brown. Bright white highlights contrast the browns of the face, hair, and beards of the saints. Each row of saints stands on a dark ground which fills one fourth of the background of the icon. This manner of portraying the saints reflects the techniques popular during the sixteenth century. The icon of ten saints clearly resembles an icon dating from this time showing the saints commemorated in the month of February.(30) The icon of the saints of February simplifies the draping of the vestments to a repeated pattern of folds appearing on all those of like vestments. In both icons, the fabric motifs are primarily variations on the cross design. The faces and hands begin with the same dark sankir and lighten to a reddish hue, and the hair and beards are accented by bright white highlights. The saints in both icons stand on a dark ground which comprises one fourth of the background.

The color and style of the border surrounding the saints also denotes the era in which the icon was composed. A wide ocher border trimmed with a dark brown and red outer edge frames the recessed section in which the saints are painted. Despite the distinctly sixteenth century style of the saints and their garments, the color and composition of the border resembles that of icons from the seventeenth century. The icon entitled My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord, dating from this era displays the standard ocher border with darker edging surrounding the recessed icon. (31) Our Lady of the Tolga painted in 1655, is also painted within a carved area of the board with the same style of wide border around it. Although the use of the contrasting edge with the painted ocher background is especially prevalent in the seventeenth century, icons from the sixteenth century share these characteristics. The icon In Thee All Things Rejoice from the early sixteenth century is bordered by a wide frame of gold leaf and edged with red paint.(32) An icon of St. Nicholas from the sixteenth century has a border of the same color as the painted dark background, with a very dark painted perimeter, thus diverging from the widespread use of gold leaf.(33) During the later part of the sixteenth century, the distinctive ocher color of the ten saints icon began to appear, replacing the gold leaf background. In the detail from the icon of the Yaroslavl Princes Theodore, David, and Constantine, the use of paint rather than gold is apparent.(34) The sixteenth century style of the figures and the ochre background of both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, date the icon of the ten saints to the latter half of the sixteenth century or the beginning of the seventeenth century.

Because of its similarity to other icons from the region, the icon of ten saints probably comes from the Yaroslavl region of Russia. The Yaroslavl school of iconography began within the thirteenth century and developed greatly during the sixteenth century, when the city became the center of trade between Moscow and the White Sea and Volga and the East.(35) The school especially flourished during the seventeenth century paralleling in quality the art of other major Russian schools.(36) The dark brown sankir of the flesh and hair of the saints, is especially indicative of this region of iconography. The proportions of the saints also reflects the technique of the Yaroslavl area.

This icon appears to have been created in Russia prior to the reforms instituted in 1652 by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow. The possibility that it may have been painted after the reforms in imitation of the earlier style cannot be discounted. During the sixteenth century, icons were central to the expression of religious devotion throughout Russia and the faithful regularly venerated them and prayed before them.(37) The introduction of the reforms of Patriarch Nikon during the seventeenth century emphasized the adoption of the Greek Orthodox customs, which he believed reflected the unaltered tradition of the Byzantine Empire. With the support of the tsar, Aleksey Mikhaylovich, and many of the Russian archbishops, the Patriarch condemned various aspects of Russian devotion as corruptions of the Byzantine rituals. The manner in which the ordained gave a blessing with two fingers extended was changed to a three-fingered blessing.(38) In imitation of the Greek Orthodox Church, the abbreviation ! %! for Jesus Christ replaced the customary ! %! on the New Ritualist icons.(39) Individual displays of faith, including the sign of the cross, were also modified in accordance with Greek practice and those not adopting the new three-fingered sign of the cross in place of the former two-fingered method were condemned.(40) While some accepted the validity of these changes, others rejected the reforms, either persisting in their old ways or promoting new perspectives regarding the expression of faith. These groups became known as Old Believers. The Nikonian reforms also influenced iconography, as many New Ritualists adopted Western styles of representing Christ and the saints, and depicted the new forms of blessing.(41) In contrast, Old Believers sought to preserve the traditional styles, imitating sixteenth century techniques.

This icon reflects characteristics of both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; therefore definitively identifying the tradition from which it arose is challenging. It is difficult to establish whether the icon represents the religious customs preceding the reforms, or if it conveys the perspective of an Old Believer or New Ritualist. On the back of the icon, for example, only the HS remains of the abbreviation for Jesus Christ. The lack of either an ! or an !, maintains the ambiguity of the icon's date. Another characteristic of pre-reform and Old Believer images is the presence of the sponge on a spear and the lance on either side. The deterioration of the back panel, however, obscures any traces of the spear or lance. Significantly, the seven saints holding their right hand in blessing bestow the two-fingered blessing used before the reforms and preserved within the Old Believer Church. This characteristic supports the hypothesis of an earlier date, but the lack of further evidence prevents this date from being established indisputably.

The choice of saints also reflects the context in which the icon was composed. With the exception of Saints Nicholas and Stephan, all of the saints depicted pursued the monastic way of life. Although Saint Nicholas did not formally enter monastic life, he remained continually dedicated to prayer and selfless deed. Saint Stephan, as the first martyr, also demonstrated his exceptional commitment to the faith through the sacrifice of his life. Within the church, monasticism is often paralleled to this ultimate expression of faith. All of the saints depicted lived before the year 1000, near Constantinople or in Egypt. This selection of the formative ascetics of the early Church suggests that icon was painted for those pursing a similar monastic vocation who valued the traditional foundations of the Church and their way of life.

This icon blends pre-reform characteristics, such as the manner of blessing, with Byzantine rather than Russian saints, representing the Greek culture which Patriarch Nikon emphasized. This combination could indicate a pre-reform piece in which the desire to preserve and promote the saints and customs unique to Russian devotion against the imposition of Greek tradition was not as central to the faithful. It could also demonstrate an Old Believer attempt to affirm the continuity of their beliefs with that of the Church Fathers. The presence of significant characteristics from both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries maintains an ambiguity regarding the precise date in which the icon was written.

Anne Marie Patzwahl

1 Melnick, Gregory, ed. An Icon Painterís Notebook: The Bolshakov Edition. Oakwood Publications. © 1995. p. 101.
2 Attwater, Donald. Golden Book of Eastern Saints. The Bruce Publishing Company. © 1938. p. 1-3.
3 "St. Basil the Great" Coptic Orthodox Church Network. http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/synexarion/basil.html.
4 Attwater. p. 7-8.
5 Melnick. p. 110.
6 "St. Gregory the Theologian the Archbishop of Constantinople". Orthodox Church in America. http://www.oca.org/FSlives.asp.
7 Fochios, Michael James. For the Glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Phanari Publications. © 1974. p. 100.
8 Ibid. p. 100.
9 Ibid. p. 102.
10 Ibid. p. 31.
11 Ibid. p. 36.
12 Melnick. p. 91.
13 Fochios. p. 64.
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid. p. 168.
16 "Venerable Paisius the Great". Orthodox Church in America. http://www.oca.org/FSlives.asp.
17 Ibid.
18 "Venerable Peter of Mt. Athos". Orthodox Church in America. http://www.oca.org/FSlives.asp.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 "Venerable Onuphrius the Great". Orthodox Church in America. http://www.oca.org/FSlives.asp.
22 Melnick. p. 47.
Kelley, Christopher P. ed. An Iconographerís Patternbook: The Stroganov Edition. Oakwood Publications. © 1992. p. 2.
23 Saint Demetrius of Rostov. The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints. Chrysostom Press. © 1994. p. 57.
24 "St. John the Faster Patriarch of Constantinople". Orthodox Church in America. http://www.oca.org/FSlives.asp.
25 "Venerable and God-bearing Father Anthony the Great". Orthodox Church in America.
26 Fochios. p. 96.
27 Ibid. p. 97.
28 Opdebeeck, Jos. Metalen Ikonen. Campinia Media. 1997. p. 142.
29 Ibid. p. 140.
30 Russian and Greek Icons. Van Doren Gallery. © 1982. p. 30-31.
31 Maslenitsyn, S. I. Yaroslavian Icon Painting. Moscow Iskustvo Publishers. © 1983. p. 49.
32 Russian and Greek Icons. p. 39.
33 Ibid. p. 40.
34 Maslenitsyn. p. 40.
35 Ibid. p. 5
36 Ibid.
37 Tarasov. p. 64.
38 Tarasov, Oleg. Icon and Devotion. Reaktion Books Ltd. © 2002. p. 125.
39 Ibid. p. 127
40 Ibid. p. 119.
41 Ibid. p. 126.