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Nicaea (Byzantium), Cult of St. Tryphon

Author(s) : Kastrinakis Nikos (6/22/2005)
Translation : Velentzas Georgios

For citation: Kastrinakis Nikos , "Nicaea (Byzantium), Cult of St. Tryphon",
Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Asia Minor
URL: <http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=8511>

Νίκαια, Λατρεία Αγίου Τρύφωνος (11/10/2006 v.1) Nicaea (Byzantium), Cult of St. Tryphon (2/15/2007 v.1) 

1. Hagiological Sources of the Life of St. Tryphon

The basic source of the life and activity of Saint Tryphon is the Synaxarion of Constantinople, probably dating to the 11th century. Tryphon came from Lampsacus of Phrygia, lived in the years of Emperor Gordian (first half of 3rd century) and, according to the Synaxarion, earned his living by breeding geese. He seems to have been able to heal all diseases and to cast out demons with the help of the Holy Spirit already from the early years of his life. Among those healed by him was the daughter of Emperor Gordian, who suffered from demons; Tryphon was able to even identify the demon with a black dog, which he showed to the people attending, thus causing a lot of them to turn to Christianity. In the years of Decius (249-251), the emperor who reigned after Philip, the successor of Gordian, Tryphon was taken to the praefectus praetorio per Orientem Acylinus accused of not regularly worshipping the statues of the gods. Thus, he was taken to Nicaea, the seat of the eparch, to defend himself. He confessed his Christian faith there. According to the tradition, Tryphon was tortured in various ways in order to forsake his religion before he was finally beheaded in 250.

2. The Cult of St. Tryphon in Constantinople

According to the Synaxarion of Constantinople, the synaxis of Saint Tryphon was held on the 1st of February at his martyrion, which was inside the church of St. John the Theologian, near the churches of Hagia Sophia and St. Eirene in Constantinople.1 The establishment of that martyrion was separately celebrated on the 19th of October.2 The synaxis of St. Tryphon was also celebrated on September 19, the day the martyrs Trophimos and Dorymedon were celebrated, near St. Anna, in the quarter known as Deuteron.3 However, according to the Synaxarion, in Constantinople there was a church exclusively dedicated to St. Tryphon, whose opening was celebrated on 1 December.4 Indeed, according to the information provided by the Byzantine written sources, in Constantinople there were at least seven churches dedicated to St. Tryphon.5 As a result, his cult was particularly popular in Constantinople, at least from the years of Justinian (6th century). It is also known that both Theophanes (early 9th century) and Emperor Leo VI (886-912) wrote encomia honouring the martyr, which shows that the cult was spread in Constantinople in the following centuries as well.

3. Details of the Cult of St. Tryphon

No particular qualities are attributed to St. Tryphon in the encomia of Theophanes and Emperor Leo VI. However, in later texts St. Tryphon is considered ‘Anargyros’, meaning saint-healer, as well as patron of cultivation, gardens and vineyards. Both these qualities are probably somehow based on the events of the saint’s life, since his synaxarion reports that Tryphon cast out demons (healing abilities) and kept geese (a professional in close contact with nature, particularly with cultivation lands in the near region). A lot of official ecclesiastical works (like Euchologia), as well as various manuscripts with anthologies of ecclesiastical and other texts, include blessings and exorcisms ‘of St. Tryphon’ concerning the success in farming gardens, vineyards and land. As a result, it should be concluded that from some time between the 10th and the 13th century the saint started to be considered patron of a particular part of agricultural production, mainly of the part connected with fruit, vegetables and wine. In particular, the saint was believed to be fighting all insects and small animals that could harm such cultivation.

4. St. Tryphon in Art

The fact that specific qualitites (healer and patron of gardens and vineyards) were attributed to St. Tryphon only from some time on, has also affected the way he is represented in art. Tryphon always appears as a young man, usually beardless, rarely having some grown hairs on his cheeks and chin, while he always has a lot of hair, oftenly unkempt, which stresses his humble origin and the fact that he spent his whole life in the country. He always wears a chiton down to his feet and a long tunic-like garment (ependytes) over it.

There are two main iconographic types of St. Tryphon according to the way he is represented and the symbols he has in his hands.

First iconographic type: In the first phase of his cult, when he was not a patron of cultures yet, Tryphon was represented holding in his right hand, like all martyrs, only a cross (the symbol of his martyrdom). The other hand was holding and raising the edge of his garment. This seemingly earlier type of representation was preserved even in later periods, when Tryphon was considered patron of cultures.

Second iconographic type: A second and probably later type of representation, clearly showing the known qualities of the saint, depicts Tryphon holding, apart from the cross in his right hand, a small sickle in his left hand [fig. 1 and 2]. It was the billhook of the Middle Ages, a basic tool for gardens and vineyards. Along with this iconographical type it seems that there was another one representing the saint holding, instead of a billhook, either a specific kind of lily or a vine branch full of grapes in his left hand. In another version, the saint is also holding, apart from the sickle, a small box with medical tools (as it often happens with saints-healers, such as the Saints Cosmas and Damianos and St. Panteleemon) indicating his healing abilities. There is also a representation of St. Tryphon in which the cross is missing and the martyr is holding the sickle in his right hand and the lily in his left hand. All the above representations should be considered versions of the second iconographic type, which, unlike the first one, attributes specific qualities to the martyr (healer and patron of gardens and vineyards).

5. Spread of the Cult of St. Tryphon.

Representations of St. Tryphon are often found in wall paintings of several churches and in portable icons from various regions: from all over Greece (from Macedonia to Crete) from Serbia and Asia Minor. It seems that the cult of the saint was particularly popular in the entire Christian world. As mentioned above, the cult was particularly widespread in Constantinople as early as in the 6th century. According to lots of other sources, Constantinople was the most important centre of cult of several saints and celebrations in the Byzantine world.

However, at the same time, there are several reasons why Asia Minor must have been another important centre of St. Tryphon’s cult. First of all, the martyr was born, lived and was martyred there: as a result, it seems reasonable that his cult appeared there. It is known that in Lampsakos, his birthplace, there was a sanctuary dedicated to him. Then his cult arrived (possibly in the 5th century, during the reign of some Asia Minor emperor) in Constantinople, before it spread over the wider Byzantine territory. Second, the earliest representations of St. Tryphon preserved so far are in Asia Minor. It is not by chance that several Cappadocian churches (from the 10th century onward) include a representation of the saint, often holding a prominent position. Third, Asia Minor was always known in the Byzantine world as the ‘cradle of saints’. The cult of several saints had began as a local cult from there: St. Polykarpos in Smyrna, St. John the Theologian in Ephesus, St. Nicholas in Myra, Archangel Michael in Chonai, St. Phokas in Sinope, St. Eugenios in Trebizond, St. Hyakinthos in Amastris, St. Theodore in Euchaita, the Forty Martyrs in Sebasteia, St. Merkourios and St. Mamas in Caesarea. The cult of St. George was also particularly spread in Paphlagonia.6 In this framework, it is not strange that the cult of St. Tryphon was particularly popular in Nicaea, the city Tryphon had been martyred.

6. The Cult of St. Tryphon in Nicaea

The cult of St. Tryphon in Nicaea must have spread more widely after 1204. It seems that, after Constantinople was captured by the crusaders, the relics of the martyr –as it happened in other cases as well– were taken to West Europe. In particular, they were deposited at the church of the Holy Spirit in Rome (the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the saint on November 10). This must have been a heavy blow to the cult of the saint in Constantinople. The Empire of Nicaea, the most powerful of the states created by the Byzantine aristocracy after 1204 in the regions the crusaders could not control, was formed a little later. It is possible that the rulers of the state of Nicaea, in their attempt to stand against the then Latin Empire of Constantinople, encouraged the cult of Tryphon, a local saint particularly known and familiar to all Orthodox, whose relics had just been stolen by their rivals.

There are two main points advocating this view. The first is that the emperor of Nicaea Theodore II Laskaris (1255-1259), in his work Encomium to the city of Nicaea, says that Tryphon was particularly dear to the Nicaeans and that his memory was greatly celebrated every year, at the same time citing an encomium he had written honouring the martyr.7 According to a Byzantine chronicle of an unknown writer of that time, Theodore II considered Tryphon his patron saint and said that the saint often visited him in his dreams encouraging and advising him. According to other sources, Theodore said that he had seen the saint leading his fighting troops. Thus, Theodore II decided that St. Tryphon should be represented beside his figure on the coins he minted. The coins represented lilies as well, one of Tryphon’s symbols within the framework of the special cult of the saint in Nicaea at the time.

7. The Church of St. Tryphon in Nicaea

The second and probably the most important point is that, according to the same anonymous chronicle, immediately after his difficult victory against the ruler of Bulgaria Michael in Northern Macedonia in 1254, Theodore returned to Nicaea and the first thing he did was to build a magnificent church dedicated to St. Tryphon, to whom he credited his victory. According to information, the church was built on the site of an earlier small plinth-build church dedicated to the saint, which had been built on the site of his martyrdom and was in a very bad condition. In his encomium to the saint, Theodore II also refers to the annual miracle of the saint, who made the lily ‘beside his lamp’ blossom on his name day, in midwinter (one year after it was cut). As a result, it should be supposed that the church of St. Tryphon was a real ‘martyrion’, where, perhaps because of the absence of his relics, the martyr Tryphon made clear his presence and his favour with the city and the emperor, by means of an annually repeated miracle of great political importance. In addition, together with the church he built and in collaboration with the then Patriarch Arsenios, Theodore II also founded a school where grammar and rhetoric were taught.

Thus, it is very possible that Theodore II, for specific reasons of internal and external policy, encouraged again the cult of St. Tryphon, which must have been declined even in the city where the saint had been martyred. This information is also verified by archaeological evidence, as the remains of a quite imposing church (22.5 x 19.5 m) were excavated in Nicaea in 1947. The church was built circa 1255 and was of the well-known cross-in-square type. The church –the so-called ‘C’ by excavators– must have been decorated with brilliant mosaics and an opus sectile floor shortly after it was built.8 Perhaps the church was on purpose built in the northern part of the city, on the main street leading from Nicaea to Constantinople.9

8. St. Tryphon and St. Mamas

There is at least one case, in a church of Attiki (13th century), when St. Tryphon is represented holding a small animal in his left hand and a staff in his right hand. It is most certainly St. Tryphon because the painter, as it usually happens, wrote the name of the saint beside his head. However, this is the first time the saint has been depicted in this way. Perhaps there are more similar representations. It should be assumed that in cases like that St. Tryphon is confused with St. Mamas, the patron of flocks and herds. The latter is often represented standing and holding a small animal in his right hand and a staff in his left hand.

There are lots of similarities between the two saints. Both Tryphon and Mamas were from Asia Minor, where the latter lived and was martyred shortly after the former, towards the late 3rd century. The place where St. Mamas was martyred, which was also a centre of his cult, was Caesarea of Cappadocia. The cult seems to have spread from Caesarea to Constantinople, as it happened with the cult of St. Tryphon, possibly in the 5th century. However, the most interesting thing is the fact that their ‘specialties’ are almost supplementary. Tryphon was the patron of cultivations and Mamas was the patron of herds, while both saints actually protected life in a society where agriculture and stock breeding were the most important means of livelihood.

1. Delehaye, H., Synaxarium Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae, Propylaeum ad Acta Sanctorum Novembris (Bruxelles 1902), l. 437. On the proximity to the Church of St Eirene, ‘the old and the new’, as above l. 818 and 840. The synaxes of the martyrs Golinduc the Persian and Christina of Tyre were also calebrated on 12 and 24 July respectively along with the martyrdom of St Tryphon (as above, l. 818 and l. 840).

2. Delehaye, H., Synaxarium Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae, Propylaeum ad Acta Sanctorum Novembris (Bruxelles 1902), l. 150.

3. Delehaye, H., Synaxarium Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae, Propylaeum ad Acta Sanctorum Novembris (Bruxelles 1902), l. 90.

4. Delehaye, H., Synaxarium Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae, Propylaeum ad Acta Sanctorum Novembris (Bruxelles 1902), l. 271.

5. Janin, R., La géographie ecclésiastique de l’Empire Byzantin. Première Partie: Le siège de Constantinople et le Patriarcat Oecuménique. Tome III: Les églises et les moinastères2 (Paris 1969), pp. 488-490 with a review of the sources. The monastery of St Tryphon, whose abbot participated in the Council of Constantinople in 536, was not dedicated to the martyr Tryphon but to the namesake archimandrite.

6. Vryonis, Sp., Jr., Η παρακμή του μεσαιωνικού ελληνισμού στη Μικρά Ασία και η διαδικασία εξισλαμισμού (11ος-15ος αιώνας) 2, ΜΙΕΤ (Athens 2000), p. 36. On the cult of the saints in Asia Mionor, see also Delehaye, H., Les origines du culte des martyrs (Bruxelles 1933), pp. 145-180.

7. On the cult of St Tryphon in Nicaea and on his encomium, see Foss, C. – Tulchin, J., Nicaea: A Byzantine Capital and Its Praises (Brookline-Mass. 1990), pp. 104-108.

8. On church C, see Foss, C. – Tulchin, J., Nicaea: A Byzantine Capital and Its Praises (Brookline-Mass. 1990), pp. 108-110.

9. Semavi Eyice brought up the question of identifying the Church of St Tryphon with another, recently excavated, church (church C), which is also of the cross-in-square type. See Eyice, S., ‘Die byzantinische Kirche in der Nähe des Yenisehir-Tores zu Iznik (=Nicaea)’, Materialia Turcica 7-8 (1981-1982), pp. 152-167.


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