An annotated translation of part of the Coptic Acts of the synod of Ephesus – by Anthony Alcock

Now here is an interesting one!  Dr Alcock writes:

I attach an annotated translation of the ‘fictional’ part of the Coptic acts of the Synod of Ephesus. I am currently preparing an annotated translation of a short Syriac text about Nestorius, which of course contains a different perspective (or ‘take’, as people say nowadays).

Here it is:

Pboou is one of the Pachomian monasteries.  The Egyptian text has suffered from the attention of hagiographers, who have introduced fictional sections like this one.  So the story is not of historical value (although genuine documents from the synod are embedded in the text).

All this material is useful to have online in English.  We could do with much more synodical material accessible in this way.  Who of us has ever read the Acts of Ephesus, or Chalcedon?

Should we build reproductions of now vanished buildings?

The ancient city of Norwich in East Anglia is still surrounded by much of its medieval circuit of walls.  But the gatehouses are all gone.  They were thrown down in an outbreak of civic improvement in 1792, to improve access to the city and save money on repairs.  By that time they were all rather cracked and ruinous anyway.

One of the most impressive was St Stephen’s gate, which faced west.  Queen Elizabeth I entered the city through it, and it must always have been the main city gate.

Here is a drawing of the gate, outside and inside, made around 1720 by John Kirkpatrick and engraved in 1864 by Henry Ninham.[1].

Here is a further drawing made in 1786 which was published in an article in 1847.[2]

Here is a last one, this time from 1792, just before demolition, by John Ninham, published by Fitch in a volume of such drawings in 1861.[3]  Repairs are clearly visible.  The windows have been enlarged also.

In England local councils vary greatly in their attitude to heritage.  Fortunately Norwich City Council has a splendid website, and this, remarkably, has a survey of the city walls, completed in 1999-2002, plus a page full of hard information for each of the vanished gatehouses.  Here is the one for St Stephen’s Gate.

After the demolition, the area simply became an area of roadway.  Indeed in the 1960s – that era of brutal contempt for what ordinary people felt – some of the walls were demolished to make way for the ring road.  The area of St Stephen’s gate was turned into a hideous roundabout, complete with concrete underpasses, and the foundations are supposed to have been destroyed.  The roundabout is what greets visitors from London and the west today.

But there is more.  The firm of architects that completed the survey was Purcell Miller Tritton, and they did not leave the matter there.  On 22 October 2010 an article appeared in the Eastern Daily Press, calling for the gate house to be rebuilt![4]

An ambitious plan to rebuild the colossal St Stephen’s Gate entrance to the city of Norwich in its original location has been unveiled today. The proposal is to reconstruct the three-storey building using traditional materials such as flint and lime mortar on the St Stephen’s roundabout as part of a wider plan to rejuvenate the city walls and make them more accessible to visitors.

An ambitious plan to rebuild the colossal St Stephen’s Gate entrance to the city of Norwich in its original location has been unveiled today.

The proposal is to reconstruct the three-storey building using traditional materials such as flint and lime mortar on the St Stephen’s roundabout as part of a wider plan to rejuvenate the city walls and make them more accessible to visitors.

A feasibility study has been carried out and work is now beginning on liaising with relevant authorities over the plan and efforts to secure funding for the project.

Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (Heart) came up with the idea and engaged architects Purcell Miller Tritton to look at the state of the city walls and draw up a plan for reconstructing what was the main gate into the medieval city of Norwich.

But they stress that rebuilding the gate is only one part of a larger project to raise awareness of the city walls and bring them back to life.

PMT in Norwich carried out a detailed study of the city defences, about what remained, how accessible they were and how they could be developed as an attraction with Heart providing funding via the East of England Development Agency.

PMT principal Nigel Sunter said: “Our overall conclusion is that the city walls are under-appreciated, difficult to find and in some cases difficult to access, particularly for wheelchair users or someone who is infirm.”

Medieval Norwich was enclosed by a masonry wall between 1337 and 1344 by Richard Spyke, a leading citizen, who carried out the fortification with gates, walls and towers at his own expense.

They are unique in Britain in that they are on both sides of the river and have four gates north of the River Wensum and seven to the south, with towers in between.

But over the years, they have been allowed to deteriorate, particularly during the 20th century. Old photographs from the 1930s show much more of them than survive now and in the 1960s some stretches were even demolished to make way for the ring road.

Mr Sunter said: “The Norwich walls are amongst the longest in the country and there are also some interesting elements to them. One is the unique boom towers from which there were chains across the river to prevent traffic from going upriver.”

Much of what exists of the walls is in a dilapidated state and in some areas the route of them is marked out on the ground such as at the Grapes Hill roundabout.

“There is no interpretation along the length of the walls and I think that we can make a lot more of the walls. Some may need repair, some are overgrown in places, such as the part near St Stephen’s roundabout. But a lot of it is undervalued and underplayed,” said Mr Sunter.

The proposal to regenerate the walls includes creating a city defences walk, installing interpretation boards, marking the site of each of the lost city gates; marking the route of the wall in cobbles in grass and pavement; and creating a city walls visitor centre to tell the story of the walls.

Mr Sunter points out that the story of Norwich is told in the Castle Museum; its ecclesiastical history can be recalled in the cathedral; the Guildhall may one day be the focus of its legal history; and the social side of the city is re-told in museums such as Bridewell.

“But the walls are left out of all those stories,” he said.

A possible site of a visitor centre could be within the reconstructed St Stephen’s Gate, which will be reconstructed from early drawings.

The plan includes strengthening the St Stephen’s roundabout to take the weight of the reconstructed gate and retaining the underpasses, which would provide access to the attraction.

The original gate had three storeys and two bastion towers. A lift and staircase will run from the underpass into the first tower where there will be displays re-telling the story of the walls. A further storey will have a roof terrace offering views along St Stephen’s.

Mr Sunter said: “It is only when you rebuild a replica that you understand more about a building, not just what it looked like but what is smelled like, what it sounded like.”

Anthony Moore, research and development co-ordinator with Heart, said: “Cities such as York and Chester have reconstructed their walls and they are now really an attraction that pump primes the economy. Other European cities such as Krakow have done the same so it is not unprecedented.

“St Stephen’s Gate was the main gate into Norwich, Queen Elizabeth I processed through it, and it has played a large part in the city’s history.”

Heart and PMT recognise there are still significant negotiations to take place over rebuilding St Stephen’s Gate but if all goes to plan, it could be a stunning feature for the centre of Norwich by the end of the decade.

Sadly the proposal does not seem to have been taken up.  The reconstruction, indeed, looks like it was done by a school-leaver in Paint!

Rebuilding like this is something that is incredibly rare in Britain, and there are strong voices in the establishment that oppose anything of the sort.  If a historic building is destroyed, accidentally or deliberately, then there is almost an assumption that it must be forgotten and something hideous built in its place.

But in Germany after WW2 there was widespread rebuilding, especially in Dresden and Nuremberg which were almost destroyed.  The heritage of the past is thereby made available to the present.  Likewise in Rome, when the Constantinian basilica of St Pauls-without-the-walls was destroyed, it was rebuilt as it had been.

We live at the tail end of the 60s era.  Those who gleefully inflicted concrete horrors on every town in the realm are still in power, just about.  Perhaps it will not be possible to make progress until these rotters are in their graves.  But already we see that nobody builds more of those horrors.  Anonymous concrete and glass boxes are still being built; but we can hope for an end to these too.

I think that I am definitely in favour of some rebuilding.  The destruction of ancient and medieval buildings was still going on in the 60s, and would be resisted now.  Let’s hope to see experiments in rebuilding heritage in England too.


I had forgotten to check the online copy of J. Britton, “On ancient gate-houses”.  It is full of interesting remarks.

In 1786, more than sixty years ago, that industrious and enthusiastic antiquary, John Carter, visited Norwich, and found eleven out of the twelve city gate-houses standing. Heigham Gate, he states beneath one of his sketches, had been then destroyed “some years:” having been taken down when Blomefield wrote, in 1741. Of the remaining eleven he made a series of slight but effective sketches, looking from without the gates into the city. He states that these sketches were made on a Sunday when all the gates were closed. These drawings together with all the other sketches that he made, from 1768 to 1806, are now in my possession, and form a collection of authentic representations, including many objects of which no other views exist. They extend through 37 folio volumes. Mr. Stevenson of Norwich possesses drawings made with a camera obscura of the same eleven gates. (p.135-6).

“Blomefield” is “Blomefield’s History”.  It would be very interesting to know where Mr Carter’s volumes are; even more so the Stevenson papers.  A google search suggests that they may be in the archives of Kings College London:

John Carter’s newly catalogued papers and correspondence in the archives of King’s College London throw considerable new light on his relationship with members of the Society of Antiquaries and his patrons, and include previously unpublished sketches of several of them. His memoirs show that a small group of wealthy antiquaries recognized his skills as an accurate and conscientious draughtsman and encouraged him faithfully to record historic – and especially medieval – buildings and monuments. Many of these buildings were later altered or destroyed, and his numerous surviving drawings are thus of immense value to scholars.[5]

I find a page on Carter’s papers at the National Archives here.  This tells me that there are manuscripts transferred to the British Library; and their catalogue tells me of:

‘A COLLECTION of Sketches relating to the Antiquities of this Kingdom; taken from the real objects, by John Carter”; 1764-1817. Twenty volumes. Paper. Folio. Additional MS 29925-29944 : 1764-1817

Not quite 37 volumes, although Additional Mss. 31113, 31153 also are by Carter.  One day I must go and look at these.

In a similar way, “Stevenson” may be William Stevenson, F.S.A., who was proprietor of the Norfolk Chronicle.  I find a mention of “COL/5/19 Papers owned by William Stevenson, relating to the history of Norwich and Norfolk, 1066-1755” in the Norfolk and Norwich Record Office.[6].  Someone ought to track these down.

Likewise the excellent Mr Britton even has something to say about attitudes that give rise to things like brutalist “architecture”:

I cannot help contrasting the state of society, when I visited Norwich more than forty years ago, with its condition at the present time. Then the greatest apathy prevailed on antiquarian subjects; the cathedral was in a lamentable state of dilapidation, and neglect, whilst the repairs that had been made and were in progress were heedlessly and tastelessly executed. Now, on the contrary, its officers are actively and liberally occupied in making sound and substantial repairs and restorations, in accordance with the varied styles and character of the old works.

Perhaps we should just see the last 50 years rather as the Victorians saw the period prior to their own; a period of decay, neglect, corruption and wastefulness?

  1. [1]“View of the outside of St Stephen’s Gate about 1720 engraved by Henry Ninham from a drawing by John Kirkpatrick [Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery 1954.138, Todd 5, Norwich, 119a]”
  2. [2]J. Britton, “On Ancient Gate-Houses”, Proceedings of the Archaeological Institute, July 1847, opposite page 136.  Online at here,
  3. [3]Robert Fitch, Views of the Gates of Norwich made in the years 1792-3 by the Late John Ninham, Norwich: Cundall, Miller, and Leavins, 1861.  Online at Google Books here.
  4. [4]Mark Nichols, “Visionary bid to rebuild city gate”.  Online here.
  5. [5]B. Nurse and J. M. Crook, “John Carter, FSA (1748–1817): ‘The Ingenious, and Very Accurate Draughtsman’”, The Antiquaries Journal, 91 (2011), 211-252.  Not accessible to me but apparently online here.
  6. [6]Rosemary Sweet, The Writing of Urban Histories in Eighteenth-century England, Clarendon (1997), p.344.

From my diary

A.J. Festugière, Sainte Thècle, saints Côme et Damien, saints Cyr et Jean (extraits), saint Georges. Traduits et annotés, Paris: Picard, 1971, arrived by ILL a week ago.  Something made me guess that it might contain French translations of some of the miracle stories printed by Aufhauser in S. Georgii Miracula, Teubner, 1913; and so it does!  In fact it looks as if M. Festugière translated the whole set, or very nearly so.

The existence of a translation is a blessing, and I’ll will add it to my St George bibliography when I get the time to compile the St George blog post.  Since the individual texts are nothing – merely one incarnation of the folk-story, rather than a literary text – this is probably quite enough for anybody but specialists.

I saw today on Twitter a BMCR review of a volume of translations from the Menologion of Simeon Metaphrastes, describing them as “Christian novels”, which they are.  The review claimed that hagiographical texts are the most frequently translated Byzantine texts, which seems like an interesting claim.

I’ve not been able to blog much for some time.  For the last year I have been on contract away from home.  Fortunately there is only 5 days remaining, and then I am free.  I plan to holiday in July and August.  If God wills then I will find a new contract in September which is closer to home.  But whatever He wills is good.

I have collected quite a list of ideas for blog posts in the mean time and no doubt these will appear once I have recovered from the contract.  The main post that I want to write is an overview of St George and his literature. I will return to translating Eutychius too.

A collection of sayings attributed to Ammonius/Amun

Dr Anthony Alcock has translated for us all a collection of sayings, some Syriac, some Greek, which are attributed to St Ammonius, or Amun, a disciple of the desert father St Anthony.  These take the form of short anecdotes.

It’s lovely to have these in English!  The PDF is here:

9th century ms of Chrysostom on Matthew for sale at Sothebys

I learn from the Twitter feed of the excellent and erudite Pieter Bullens of a curious story.  One of the most important manuscripts of Chrysostom’s Homilies on Matthew, currently University Library, Basle, under the shelf-mark B. II. 25, is to be sold at Sothebys after a 38-year loan.

The Sotheby’s catalogue contains a number of images, and some truly fascinating details.

The most recent edition of this work is F. Field, Sancti patris nostri Joannis Chrysotomi Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani Homiliae in Matthaeum, 3 vols., 1839. (The Patrologia Graeca text being a reprint of the 17th century edition).  But this manuscript was unknown to Field, being published only in 1900.

What makes it special is a connection with the Latin translations of Chrysostom – in various passages it gives the same reading as Anianas of Celeda in the 5th century, where the majority of manuscripts are in error.

It would be nice to think that the university library in Basle have made a digital copy of the whole manuscript before it went to Sothebys.  It might be optimistic, too.

Sales of collections are always sad.  Sales of manuscripts often indicate the presence of death taxes, and other signs of the rapacity of the modern taxman.  It is probably the German state that is responsible for throwing this item to the mercy of the art market, but I don’t know this for fact.

As I don’t know how long this information will remain online, let me give a copy of the details here.  I wonder who wrote it?  It is magnificent!


(1) Palaeographical analysis by Ernst Gamillscheg and Michel Aubineau suggests that this manuscript was written in the late 9th century in Constantinople; the close relationship with manuscripts written by Nikolaus Studites, notably a codex signed by Nikolaos Studites in 835 (St Petersburg, National Library, MS 219; see S. Lake, VI: Manuscripts in Moscow and Leningrad, 1936, no.234) and another manuscript attributed to Studites (Vatican Library, MS gr.2079; see E. Follieri, Codices graeci Bibliothecae Vaticanae …, 1969, pl.13 and B.L. Fonkitch, ‘Notes paléographiques …’, Thesaurismata, 16, 1979, pp.154-56) may indicate an origin in the Studiu-Monastery. (2) The first and two last leaves replaced in the late 13th century by an accomplished scribe. (3) Liturgical rubrics added by a 14th-century scribe (e.g. ff. 8v, 36r, 54r) indicate that the manuscript was kept at the Hodegon Monastery in Constantinople; another example is the Codex Ebnerianus (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Auct. T. inf. 1.10) that mentions the copyist and annotator Joasaph for the Hodegon Monastery in 1391 (see I. Hutter, Corpus der byzantinischen Miniaturhandschriften, I: Oxford, Bodleian Library, 1977, no.39 and E. Gamillscheg and D. Harlfinger, Repertorium aus Bibliotheken Grossbritanniens, 1981, no.208). (4) In England by 1900 (binding). Offered by Quaritch in their Catalogue No. 271: A Catalogue of Rare and Valuable Books, 1909, no.604; Catalogue No. 290: A Catalogue of Bibles, Liturgies, Church History and Theology, 1910, no.354; and probably also in subsequent catalogues; sold on 30 June 1914 to Karl W. Hiersemann, Leipzig, for £190 (BL, Add.64227: Quaritch, Account Ledgers 1913 onwards, p.174). (5) Bogislav Freiherr von Selchow (1877-1943), lyricist, naval officer and commander of Free Corps Marburg; his coat of arms inside the upper cover. (6) Martin Wahn (1883-1970), vicar and member of the Church Council of the Confessing Church in Kamienna Góra, Silesia, until 1947; died in Singen, southern Germany, just north of the German-Swiss border, in 1970. He may have received the manuscript through Bogislav’s sister Anni von Gottberg who was a member of the Confessing Church, Potsdam, and opponent of National Socialism. By descent to Martin Wahn’s grandson and then on deposit at the University Library, Basel, 1980-2018, under the shelf-mark B. II. 25.


The manuscript includes the first 44 homilies of John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew. The most recent critical edition of the text is F. Field, Sancti patris nostri Joannis Chrysotomi Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani Homiliae in Matthaeum, 3 vols., 1839. (Migne’s Patrologia Graeca edition of 1862 simply reprinted Montfaucon’s older edition of 1612). None of these editions took into account the present manuscript because it was unknown to them. It contains numerous instances where its text sides with the Latin translation of Annianus (5th century AD Alexandria) over against the other medieval Greek manuscripts of John Chrysostom, e.g. folio 54 line 34 (Homily 8, vol. 1 p.102 Field) the MS reads parresias (which is correct and adopted by Field) over against periousias as given by MSS A, B, and the Armenian version – so that it can be seen that this MS represents an older tradition.

The manuscript contains extensive quotations (pointed out by diplai [>] in the left margin) from the Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew and other Old and especially New Testament texts. It is worth mention that the 9th-century scribe writes incipits of individual homilies and sometimes quotations from the text of Matthew in older-looking majuscules rather than the 9th-century minuscules for the text of John Chrysostom. There are frequent marginal ANNOTATIONS, some in early hands (if not identical with the original scribe’s), some later (including the hand of the 14th-century rubricator) which provide exegetical glosses, notation of variants from collation with other manuscripts, corrections of copying errors, and addition of scribal omissions (including the missed out text appended by means of the tipped in binding strip before folio 230). Insertions of missed out texts are regularly signalled in the margin preceded by an insertion sign in form of a modern division sign.


E. Gamillscheg and M. Aubineau, ‘Eine Unbekannte Chrysostomos-Handschrift (Basel Universitätsbibliothek, B. II. 25)’, Codices Manuscripti. Zeitschrift für Handschriftenkunde, 7, 1981, pp.101-08.

P. Andrist, ‘Structure and History of the Biblical Manuscripts Used by Erasmus for His 1516 Edition’, in Basel 1516. Erasmus’ Edition of the New Testament, 2016, p.85 note 14.

Readers will understand if I admit that a purely temporary shortage of funds here at Pearse Towers means that regrettably I cannot save this item for us all.  Those truly interested in doing so had better have wallets with more than $250,000 inside them.  Petty cash to the well-connected, of course, but not a sum that most of us will dispose of.

Whoever buys the item is likely to be a gentleman and a scholar, as well as a rich man.  Let us hope that he will place the item online.

Looking at Aufhauser’s 1913 “edition” of miracle-stories of St George

A couple of years after his 1911 publication on the miracles of the Dragon and the Demon, Aufhauser went on to publish the text of 19 miracle stories or other pieces about St George, in the Teubner series in 1913.  (Online at here).

The book contains text(s) taken from several manuscripts.  Unhappily these include the codex Athous Ioasaphaion 308, written on paper so late as 1878.  Yes, that is right – only 35 years before the Teubner, and written, much of it, in modern Greek.  The stories agree on content, but little else; so, mysteriously, Aufhauser edits two or three or more versions in parallel, in a hard to follow manner.

Here are the items in it (I’ve translated the Latin titles given by Aufhauser).  Aufhauser gave summaries of the first 13 items in his 1911 book, which I have already given here.  Items 14-19 he prints for the first time.

1. De columna viduae – The column of the widow
2. De imagine perfossa – The stabbed image
3. De iuvene Paphlagonensi – The Paphlagonian young man
4. De filio ducis Leonis – The son of Duke Leo
5. De bubus Theopisti – The runaway oxen of Theopistus
6. De visione Saraceni  – The Saracen’s vision
7. De imagine – The image
8. De milite interfecto – The murdered soldier
9. De iuvene Mytilenaeo capto – The captured young man of Mytilene
10. De libo – The pancake
11. De Manuele – Manuel
12. De dracone – The dragon
13. De daemone – The demon
14. De zona S. Georgii – The belt of St George
15. Apocalypsis S. Georgii – The apocalpyse of St George
16. Hymnus in honorem S. Georgii – A hymn in honour of St George
17. De mansionario – The inn-keeper
18. De statua marmorea – The marble statue
19. De voto coram imagine – The vow before the image

The contents of items 14-19 are not given except in the text.

I understand that a number of these items exist in French translation, in A.J. Festugiere, Saint Thecle, saints Cosme et Damien, saints Cyr et Iean (extraits), Saint Georges (Paris 1971), 33-82.  That’s a lot of pages; maybe he translated the lot!  I shall place an ILL and see.

I find that various of these miracles are recounted online on orthodox pages.  I don’t know if they have much connection to the texts published by Aufhauser.

My purpose in investigating all this has been to discover if there are literary texts which should be translated into English.  But it seems more than doubtful that any of this deserves translation, at least by me.  A summary of the contents of each story would serve for most purposes; for none of these texts are canonical, or literary, or form any kind of collection.  They are just stories, legends, that circulate.  So why spend much time on translating one of the many forms in which a given story exists in the manuscripts?

The passio of St George is another matter, as there is clearly a literary history involved.  It is possible that the materials around St George and the dragon might usefully be put into English, because of the importance of that myth to the English-speaking world.

But all in all, it’s some distance from what I want to be doing.

From my diary

So much is online these days, that I hardly use my local library any more.  Also I have rather more money than I did thirty years ago, and the temptation is strong to simply order any book that I want, and have it appear at my house – or my hotel room – the next day.

It is, of course, terribly wasteful to do this.  But I admit to having succumbed twice in recent weeks, once for Christopher Walter’s The Warrior Saints – a fine book indeed, and absolutely critical for anyone interested in the St George literature – and also for the Ashgate Research Companion to Hagiography volume 2.  The latter was probably a very expensive mistake, for I have still not opened it.

Another text was not online, nor readily available for purchase.  So I sent an email to my local library asking them to get it for me.  I was mildly surprised to be told that my library card had expired.  After using the same card for over thirty years, this seemed very odd!  But they ordered it anyway, and it arrived today.  For $8 I can have the use of it for two weeks.  That’s not very long; except that, of course, I always intended to scan it and create a PDF which would always be with me.  As the item was published before WW1, and is therefore out of copyright in the USA, I also intended to put it online.

This morning I collected it, on a steaming hot grey morning.  It was good to see  that my PC copy of Abbyy Finereader Pro 12 and book scanner still worked.  The small size of the volume, and small text size, meant that I had to scan it at 600dpi, which of course meant very large bitmaps.  These were almost 20mb per page in .png colour format; half that, on average, in jpg.  And they had to be colour, because the spine was tightly bound and the shadow in the spine covered some of the text.  Peculiarly the yellowed paper scanned as a faint pink.

Anyway the scan is certainly good enough for my purposes, although I do wish somebody would find a way to produce monochrome scans of tightly bound books!

I’ve been thinking about the legends of St George.  A remark by Christopher Walter has resonated.  These are not literary texts, where the specific words of the story matter.  These are folkstories, where the story is all, but the precise words nothing.

It’s like the legends of King Arthur.  There actually is no original text for these.  Instead there are the legends, in ever-changing forms, and any two recitings may be cast in quite different words.  Such written forms as exist are derivative from this process.

The same is true of the legends of Robin Hood.  There are the medieval ballads, but nobody pretends that these are definitive.  The story will feature Robin, and Little John, and the Sheriff of Nottingham; and at the end the Sheriff will be foiled and the Merry Men will celebrate in the greenwood.  The rest is mere scaffolding, temporary and of no permanent importance.

The same must be true of the stories of St George.  Nobody ever cared about the precise words.  It is the story that matters.  Consequently almost every other copy is quite different.  It is qualitatively a mistake to try to trace a stemma in the way that we might for a literary text.

The legends of St George, like those of Robin Hood, have an oral element.  On the feast day of St George, it would be necessary to give an account of the saint.  Collections of brief accounts of saints exist, in the synaxaries, compiled for just this purpose.  But longer accounts would naturally be given, sermons might well incorporate other material, and so tellings of the legend would extend.

I’ve also been mulling over the question of whether St George is English.  This sounds like a strange question!  But today English nationalism is held in great suspicion by the British ruling class, who rightly see it as a threat to their internationalist policies, and attacks on English institutions are encouraged.  St George as a symbol of England, wearing the red cross, is therefore suspect.

On twitter I saw a jeer that St George was a Palestinian immigrant.  Much nationalism has been excited by the settlement of more than five million immigrants in the last decade, which gives the jeer its point.  Like most good jeers it is designed to be hard to respond to.  But we instinctively know that something is wrong.  And it gives us the chance to clarify what we mean by a nation’s patron saint.

St George was adopted as the patron saint of England by the crusader kings of England.  The invincible warrior on horseback was about all they took from earlier Greek legends.  But saints of that period belonged to all of Christendom.  Possibly this is still true even today, for Catholic saints.  St George was not a Palestinian, even if his shrine stood in Lydda.  The original St George, if he existed, was a Greek or a Roman.  Like the heritage of antiquity, like the Holy Roman Emperor, he belonged to all Christians everywhere.  Any nation was at liberty to adopt a saint, and customise him for their nation.  And that is what kings like Richard the Lionheart and Edward III did.  In a sense, they created St George of England, from a mixture of existing materials – this linked him to the cult of the saint – and their own contemporary need for a hero-saint.  St George is not an immigrant, but a home grown expression of what the English wanted.

Is this perhaps some sort of reply?  At this point we pass rather beyond my period, so I can’t say how accurate all this is.  But it is certainly more true than the gibe of St George the immigrant, which nobody ever heard of until these unhappy days.

I confess that many of the working class nationalists that one sees depicted on the television are wildly unattractive.  But if we must have such people, would it be such a bad thing for them all to revere St George?!

That said, it seems most unlikely that anybody will.  I am the last person to predict how things will be.

That said, I have nagging doubts about the direction of modern life…!

Do we really have a 4th century inscription from Sakkaia / Shaqqa dedicated to St George?

If you want to know about the origins of St George, it isn’t very long before you hear that a church inscription in Syria exists, dedicated to St George, and dating from the 4th century AD.  The details are often a bit vague; but the site is the town of Shaqqa or Shakka, ancient Sakkaia or Saccaea, sometimes called Maximianopolis, after the co-emperor of Diocletian.

Let’s have a look at this.

The inscription was published in 1870 as entry 2158, vol. 2, p.505-6, by Waddington in his Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie.[1]  He lists it as Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum 8609, although I find it quoted as CIG 8603.  Here’s Waddington’s drawing:

He says that the inscription was on a large stone, broken into two pieces, lying in front of the liwan of the sheikh.  The middle contained a cross in a circle which had been “hammered”.  He also says the text was better preserved when Burkhardt saw it.

Thanks to the genius of Pawel Nowakowski and the CSLA,  we can have a transcription and translation here, with an image of Burkhardt’s drawing:

+ οἶκος ἁγίων ἀθλοφόρων μαρτύρων Γεωργίου καὶ τῶν σὺν αὐτῷ ἁγίων. ἐ[κ π]ρ[οσφ]ωρ(ᾶς) Τιβερίνου ἐπισκ(όπου), ἔκτισεν ἐκ θεμελίων τὼ ίε[ρ]ατῖον καὶ τὴν π[ρ]ο[σ]θή[κ]ην τοῦ ναοῦ, ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) ιε΄, ἔτους σξγ΄, σπουδῇ δὲ Γεωργίου καί Σεργίου μεγάλου διακ(όνων)

+ The house of the holy prize-winning martyrs: George and his holy companions. From the offerings of bishop Tiberinos. (He?) built the sanctuary and the aisles (prostheke) of the church from the foundations. 15th indiction, year 263. By the efforts of the deacons Georgios and Sergios the Great.

I have highlighted the era in use, the ἔκτους τῆς πόλεως.

The question is what the year 263 might refer to, in years AD.  This is not simple.  Waddington suggested that it couldn’t be in the era of Bostra, which would make it 368 AD, as the indiction number was wrong.  But this was the only date Waddington attempted, and consequently it passed into literature.

Y.E. Meimaris, Chronological Systems in Roman-Byzantine Palestine, (1992) p.321, (online here), discusses several inscriptions from Shaqqa and attempts to work out the local era.  But in fact it was J. Koder and M. Restle who worked out that the era must start with the acclamation of Maximian Herculius as Caesar in 286.[2].

So year 263 of Maximianopolis would be 549 AD; quite a lot later than many books and websites suggest.

There is a wrinkle on this; that 549 is not the 15th indiction.  So we have to correct for this also; either the year is wrong, or the indiction is.  This gives a range of possible dates between 549 and 567.[3]

The actual inscription has not been seen since Waddington.  But it is the dedication of a church, and the remains of the building are known.  Pascale Clauss-Balty, “La kalybé de Hayat (Syrie du Sud)”, in: Syria: Archéologie, art et histoire, 85 (2008) (Online here) identifies it as one of a series of temple types called “kalybé”, some of them visited in the 19th century by Vogüé.  He adds (p.262):

In Byzantine times, the kalybé of Shaqqa was transformed into a martyrion dedicated to Saint George. Vogüé states that the altar had been placed under the dome, behind a wooden fence whose post-holes he could still see in the piers of the central bay. In front of the facade, there was also a kind of vestibule (pl. 11), the northern limit of which was to correspond to that of a levelled area still in place.

It is the lintel of the entrance to this vestibule which bore the inscription seen by Waddington in 1860 and which attributed to Bishop Tiberinus the construction of the small sanctuary, placing in the year 263 of the local era the completion of the works, i.e. in 549, 550 or 565. Butler merely reproduces the Vogüé plan and section and adds some minor information.

The sober profile of the mouldings, the resemblance with the kalybé of Umm az-Zeitun and the membership of the same program as the Kaisariyeh allow us to date the kalybé of Shaqqa of the 2nd half of the 3rd century.

This is good news, as we can have a look at the building.  Vogue is online, but the contents have been scanned poorly and the images are better in the Clauss-Balty article.[4]  Here’s the facade from the north and the floor-plan:

And here a modern image from the same article:

But it is easy enough to find more online.  Not sure who the author of the first one might be…?

Ross Burns is in fact an author on Syrian monuments, and this comes from his website, monuments of Syria.  Googling using the Arabic name for Shaqqa (found on Wikipedia as “شقا“) produced a few more:

It looks as if the lintel was removed, the central arch collapsed, and the modern house was built in the ruin at some subsequent date.  Is the Vogue drawing a reconstruction, I wonder?  He states (vol.1 p.42) that the covering of the central aisle has fallen.  But the poor quality scan of the images makes it impossible for me to say.

I do wonder where that inscription is.  It’s probably in a wall, somewhere in the town.  If only one could visit and just ask!

It is interesting to see this pagan temple, rededicated to St George in the 6th century.  But the date of dedication is not the earliest known, in fact.  This we will discuss in another post.

  1. [1]Online here.  You can find the relevant portions on p.87 and p.257 of the PDF.
  2. [2]J. Koder and M. Restle, “Die Ara von Sakkaia (Maximianoupolis) in Arabia”, Jahrbuch OB 42 (1992), 79-81.  I have been unable to obtain access to this, but Frank R. Trombley, Hellenic Religion and Christianization: C. 370-529, p.344, gives us the info.
  3. [3]See the CSLA discussion for details.
  4. [4]De Vogue, Syrie centrale. Architecture civile et religieuse du Ier au VIIe siècle, Paris (1865-77); vol 1 vol 2

The Miracles of St Ptolemy – translated from Arabic by Anthony Alcock

Dr Alcock has kindly translated another Eastern Christian text.  This one is a collection of miracles by St Ptolemy.  It’s here:

Thank you so much, Dr A.!

Help at last! A FREE database with all the references to the Saints and their cult before 700 AD!

For the last few weeks I have been trying to find out about St George.  Starting from nothing, I want to know when the first mentions of him are, what literary texts are available, etc.  It’s been amazingly hard work, poring over century-old German monographs, the Acta Sanctorum, trying to find more recent works, and so forth.  Hagiography is dreadful to work with; and where on earth do you start, trying to find out inscriptions and church dedications?  Who knows??

But this week I discovered a mighty, mighty aid to my quest:  The Cult of the Saints in Late Antiquity project. This is a massive database, which contains every reference in the historical record to a saint, up to around 700 AD.  The “about” page and the “search” pages are here:

So what’s in here?  An entry can be a list of all the data for a saint, such as Saint George.  With a bit of fiddling, you find that he is S00259, and you get a list of data points back, in chronological order:

Not everything is completed yet.  The greyed-out entries – which are still useful, note – are yet to be written.  But so much is done.  Each entry is a text, a translation into English, some discussion, maybe a photograph if they had one, and a very up-to-date bibliography.  Note that this is not just Greek and Latin; Armenian, Coptic, Syriac and Georgian sources are also included!

Since I have been searching for some time for information on one inscription, I am painfully aware of how much labour must have been undertaken to produce an entry far more up-to-date than anything that I had been able to obtain.  Frankly it’s gold.  You will save yourself so much effort.

I have yet to use it for its design purpose, tho, of picking up cross-references.  This, I imagine, is where the database design will really pay dividends for researchers.  I heartily approve.

The entries are becoming visible in Google, which is how I became aware of the project.  Make your obscure query for some Syrian church, and you may well get a line from this database appear.  I hope that the links are indeed permanent, for this is quite a resource.  Usefully each page indicates how it should be referenced for publication (although more should be done to this, I think).  I hope that the pages get archived at as well; the last thing we need is for material to vanish offline in 5-10 years time.

If you have any interest in hagiography at all, you need to get familiar with this site.  It’s simply the best tool to hit the hardware department since the Acta Sanctorum.

The contributors are listed here; many of the names will be familiar, all doing very good work.  The project leader is Bryan Ward-Perkins.

I truly approve of this site.  It’s accessible to ordinary chaps like you and I, all around the world.  It’s something that would have been unthinkable before the internet.  Johannes Bollandus and Daniel Papebroch would have given their eye-teeth for it.

This site almost justifies the existence of Oxford University all by itself; for it gives access to the fruits of so much learning to so very many more people than could ever research it themselves.  Words fail me.  Use it.