Vita Icon Images
VITA ICON OF EUTHYMIOS OF SARDIS
1830, painted by George Chaliomidis (?), Asia Minor, perhaps Thrace
tempera on wood
109 cm x 71 cm
Gift of Charles Wightman
This icon is notable for being a dated and signed work produced by an as yet unknown icon painter. (1) The panel offers a portrait of the iconophile saint Bishop Euthymios of Sardis (754-831). The bishop holds a Gospel in his left hand and blesses with his right hand. He is elderly and has a full white beard. He stands against a landscape that includes water filled with shipping. Christ blesses the saint in the upper right of the panel. From the upper left, an angel proffers the crown of martyrdom to the saint. The scroll carried by the angel say: "Glory to Him who has glorified you. Glory to Him who has crowned you."
The lower half of the panel contains ten scenes from the life of the saint. These begin with the uppermost scene on the left-hand side and continue in an anti-clockwise direction. The first scene is entitled: "The holy man rebukes the Emperor Leo for being an iconoclast." This refers to Euthymios's participation in a debate between the Emperor Leo V (813-20) and a number of iconophile monks and clerics. This took place in 815. The artist of this icon has focused attention on Euthymios by showing him in dispute with the emperor alone. (2) The next scene is: "The holy man is exiled by the same Leo." Euthymios was sent into exile to the island of Thasos in the northern Aegean. He returned from this exile in 821 during the reign of Michael II (820-29). The artist suggests the departure by showing Leo V and Euthymios against the background of a port. The third scene is: "The holy man is whipped with raw hides in the presence of the Emperor Theophilos." (3) The saint was accused of having predicted the downfall of Theophilos. This took place in 831. The fourth scene shows: "The holy man imprisoned by the Emperor Theophilos." It is notable that the saint is shown reading in this and the next scene. In the fifth scene: "He is banished to another island." This is the island of St. Andrew to the north of Cape Akritas on the Bithynian coast south of Constantinople. He arrived there on December 16, 831. The next picture bears the title: "The death of the holy man." Euthymios died on December 26, 831. The saint is shown lying on his deathbed. Above him, Christ and the angels come to collect his soul. The seventh scene is entitled: "A nun suffering from pleurisy and embracing the tomb of the holy man is cured." This begins a sequence of posthumous scenes. The story is found in the nineteenth-century Akalouthia written by James, an archdeacon of Methyne and dedicated to Patriarch Agathangelos I of Constantinople (1826-30) and Zacharias, Metropolitan of Chalcedon. The first edition was published in 1829. (4) The eighth scene is labeled: "The ship seeking shelter takes refuge in Chile and the holy man appears to them there at night." This scene concerns the transfer of the saint's body from Cherson in the Crimea to the city of Chile (Anchialos) on the Black Sea coast of Thrace (now the city of Pomorie in Bulgaria). These events are introduced in the Akolouthia. (5) In this scene the saint appears to sailors on board the ship directing them to leave his relics in Chile. The next episode continues this tale. The title reads: "The disobedient soldiers sink into the sea with their boat." This scene shows the chest containing the relics of the saint in the water. The sailors have refused to leave the relics in Chile, so their ship is overwhelmed. We are told that the citizens of Chile swam out and rescued these relics. (6) The tenth and final scene is "The inhabitants of Chile pray and place the holy man in the sanctuary of the temple." This confirms the arrival of the body in Chile. The marble construction of the church visible in the icon is mentioned in the Akolouthia. (7)
The icon thus presents a portion of the life of Euthymios of Sardis. It focuses upon his role in the second phase of the Byzantine iconoclastic controversy, the immediate cause of his martyrdom. This narrative is preparatory to the manifestations of the saint's holiness in his posthumous miracles. These serve not only to confirm the power of the saint, but also the possession of his powerful body by the Chileans. (8)
Two texts are of importance for dating and locating this work. Both are written in Greek. The first is found between the fifth and the sixth scene of the saint's life. This defines the icon as: A Prayer from the Servants of God. There then follows a list of these servants of God, presumably those that paid for the icon. And finally the year 1830 is given. A second text begins at the saint's left foot: "By the hand of George Chaliomidis (?), 1830, in the month of May." The first text suggests that the icon was destined to reflect the devotion of a small group of adherents to the cult of Euthymios. They took possession of this icon in 1830. It is possible that they commissioned the work, but we cannot be certain of that. They do not reveal their own origins. The second inscription tells us that the painter completed this panel in May 1830. Unfortunately, no George Chaliomidis features in our existing catalogues of Greek artists. (9)
This icon is an indicator of the vitality of traditional practices concerning the cult of saints in the Orthodox tradition. This icon acts as a communal expression of devotion to this saint and as an affirmation of the saint's power to act even in the nineteenth century.
1. A brief notice regarding this icon can be found in: Bulletin of the University of Notre Dame 29, 4 (1934), 141-42.
2. There are two medieval Lives of Euthymios available in modern editions. These are: Jean Gouillard, "La Vie d'Euthyme de Sardes (=831): une oeuvre du patriarche Méthode," Travaux et mémoires 10 (1987), 1-101, and Aristeides Papadakis, "The Unpublished Life of Euthymius of Sardis: Bodleianus Laudianus Graecus 69," Traditio 26 (1970), 63-90. A more modern Life is of greater relevance to the reading of our icon: James of Methyne, 0Akolouqi/a tou= e0n a9gi/oiv patro\v h9mw=n Eu0qumio/u e0pisko/pou Sa/rdewn tou= o9mologhtou= , 2nd ed. (Athens: D. Z. Gaze, 1852). I would like to thank Xavier Lequeux of the Sociéttét des Bollandistes for supplying me with a copy of the Akolouthia.
3 . The Akolouthia describes this scene: Akolouthia, 28. It is not described by either of the Medieval lives.
4. Akolouthia, 29.
5 . Akolouthia, 30.
6 . Akolouthia, 31.
7 . Akolouthia, 31.
8. The nineteenth century Synaxarion edited by Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain reports that the body of Euthymios was taken from Constantinople in 1453 to Cherson and from there to Chile. This information is also to be found in the Akolouthia. Chile remained the major center for the dissemination of the cult. Nikodemus reports that a long life of the saint was kept there in manuscript form: Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, Sunacaristh\v tw=n dw/deka mhnw=n tou= e0niautou=, 3rd ed., vol. 1 (Athens, 1868), 409, n. 2.
9. Manoles Chatzedakes, #Ellhnev Zwgra/foi meta/ thn (Alwsh (1450-1830), 2 vols (Athens: Center for Neohellenic Studies, 1987 and 1997) and Phoinos Piompinos, #Ellhnev a(giogra/foi me/xri to/ 1821 (Athens: ELIA, 1984)