The Passion of Saint Irenaeus of Sirmium – A New Scene in the Dečani Menologion: A Contribution to the Study of the Veneration and Iconography of the Holy Martyr Irenaeus of Sirmium in the Byzantine Empire and Medieval Serbia Cover Image

Страдање светог Иринеја Сирмијског – нова сцена дечанског календара: прилог познавању култа и иконографије свештеномученика Иринеја Сирмијског у Византији и средњовековној Србији
The Passion of Saint Irenaeus of Sirmium – A New Scene in the Dečani Menologion: A Contribution to the Study of the Veneration and Iconography of the Holy Martyr Irenaeus of Sirmium in the Byzantine Empire and Medieval Serbia

Author(s): Dubravka M. Preradović
Subject(s): Cultural history, Visual Arts, Comparative Studies of Religion, Eastern Orthodoxy
Published by: Српска академија наука и уметности
Keywords: Serbian medieval painting; Dečani Monastery; painted calendar; Saint Irenaeus of Sirmium; Saint Irenaeus of Lyon

Summary/Abstract: The Menologion (Calendar) painted in the monumental three-naved narthex of the Dečani katholikon was studied on several occasions and almost all of the surviving illustrations have been reliably identified. In the generally well-preserved programme of mural decoration in the narthex, the Calendar section illustrating the month of August, the last month of the Menologion, is significantly damaged, due to which the illustrations of that month’s holidays are the least known. In the middle bay along the north wall, above the northern entrance to the narthex, the days from 16 to 24 August are illustrated in a single field, but the images for 21–23 August are not identified. Based on the scarce fragments preserved in situ, as well as the drawings and the description of the scene reading “the beheading of an elderly saint whose head and body were thrown into the water”, it may be concluded that the illustration corresponding to the 23rd day of August shows the passion of Saint Irenaeus of Sirmium. Saint Irenaeus was the first Bishop of Sirmium evidenced in historical sources. He was killed in the spring of 304 AD, after the proclamation of the fourth persecutory edict against Christians. Shortly afterwards, the cult of the bishop martyr Irenaeus was established in the city of Sirmium, where a basilica was dedicated to him. Thanks to the Passion, which has survived both in Greek and Latin versions, it was soon disseminated beyond the boundaries of Pannonia. In the period preceding the hagiographical reform of Symeon Metaphrastes, the feast dedicated to Irenaeus was celebrated on 26 March and the first known example of his passion in the Old Church Slavonic language bears this date. It can be found in the Codex Suprasliensis, compiled in the late 10th or the early 11th century in a scriptorium of the Preslav Literary School. The feast of the Bishop of Sirmium can be found under the same date in the famous 11th-century illustrated imperial Menologion (Codex Mosquensis 376), which also contains the oldest known illustration of the passion of Bishop Irenaeus of Sirmium. In the Byzantine Empire, after the reform of the liturgical calendars by Symeon Metaphrastes, this saint was celebrated on 23 August, the same day as the eponymous bishop of Lyon, a prominent adversary of heresy in the late second century. In the 11th century, a common service was composed for the two eponymous bishops and both were mentioned under this date by Christophoros of Mytilene, an 11th-century (ca. 1000 – after 1050 or 1068) poet from Constantinople who compiled an ecclesiastical calendar in verse. His verses accompany the illustrated Menologia in the church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos in Thessaloniki and the church of the Holy Virgin in Treskavac, where 23 August is illustrated by the half-figure of Bishop Irenaeus. However, it is not clear whether the image shows the bishop martyr of Lyon or the Sirmium saint. In the Dečani Menologion, the scene of the martyrdom of Irenaeus of Sirmium is the illustration for 23 August. Keeping in mind that Irenaeus, the Bishop of Sirmium, is not mentioned in Serbian medieval liturgical sources, it can be inferred that the model for the painted Menologion in the Dečani monastery was of Greek origin. By identifying the scene in Dečani, we contribute to the modest iconographic dossier of the Sirmian bishop martyr, listing so far no more than two or three depictions in Byzantine and Serbian medieval painting.

  • Issue Year: 2017
  • Issue No: 7
  • Page Range: 1-20
  • Page Count: 24
  • Language: Serbian