Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 2821
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Shahid , Irfan.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: The Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople: Who Built It and Why? [Suggests that both Justinian and his wife Theodora were responsible but had different motives. Theodora was moved by religious concerns while Justinian was worried about the outcome of the Persian War].
  • Source: Byzantine Studies Conference. Abstracts of Papers 22, ( 1996): Pages 84
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Architecture- Religious Byzantium Church and State Constantinople/Istanbul- Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus Patronage, Ecclesiastical Theodora, Wife of Justinian I, Byzantine Emperor
  • Geographic Area: Eastern Mediterranean
  • Century: 6
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  • Abstract: The question has been controversial, witness the dialogue or rather trialogue between Cyril Mango, Richard Krautheimer, and Thomas Matthews for which, see Cyril Mango, "The Church of Sts Sergius and Bacchus Once Again" BZ 68 (1975), pp. 385-392. The first has given a most persuasive answer to the question, namely that it was built by Theodora for the colony of Monophysite monks in Constantinople. There is much to be said for this view. And yet some doubts linger which suggest an alternative explanation, one not necessarily exclusive of Cyril Mango's. Although St. Sergius was greatly revered by the Monophysites, he was not a specifically Monophysite saint but one honored and revered by Chalcedonians, indeed all Christians. Furthermore, this view leaves Justinian out of the picture. Procopius, however, credits him with the building, and no "ira" or "studium" is discernible in his statement, which would make it exceptional. Finally, this view, centered on Constantinople, does not explain the proliferation of churches in honor of the Saint in various parts of the empire, especially Oriens. The dating of the foundation of the church to AD 527 coincides with the outbreak of the First Persian War of Justinian's reign. That war scared the emperor, who had plans for the reconquest of the Roman Occident and it presented him with the unpleasant prospect of having to fight on two fronts. It is within this military context that the erection of the church may now be set: (1) Sergius was a military saint and the right one to invoke in this context; (2) and he was such, much more than other military saints of the Orient, such as Procopius and George, since these were buried in faraway Palestine, while Sergius was buried near the Persian border; (3) moreover, before his martyrdom, Sergius had most probably fought the Persians; (4) Justinian's special interest in him may have derived from the fact that he was not an Oriental Saint but presumably a Roman. Zacharia of Mytilene records the warm welcome accorded Pope Agapetus by Justinian because he could speak to him in Latin. The dedicatory inscription in the church, however, involves both the emperor and the empress and so, it is possible that the two were inspired by different motives (which may or may not have been equipollent), a view that can accommodate that of Monophysite Theodora. But as far as the Emperor was concerned it is more than likely that he was principally concerned about the Persian War. Thus Sergius emerges as a palladium of Byzantium during the crisis generated by that conflict and appears as an instance of the enlistment of religion in the service of the State. The paper will go into some significant details in exploring this view, also with references to other monuments of the reign, which functioned in a similar fashion. [Reproduced by permission of the author.]
  • Author's Affiliation: Dumbarton Oaks and Georgetown University
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1996.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 01473387
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