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A COPTIC PAINTING OF SAINT THEODORE THE ORIENTAL FROM ~ THE 9TH CENTURY

March 24, 2016

Saint Theodore

The above painting on vellum is from a Coptic manuscript is Fol. 001v, Theodore Tyro which forms part of Manuscript M.613, titled “Martyrdom of SS. Theodore the Anatolian (the Oriental), Leontius the Arab, and Panigerus the Persian”, and which is kept at the Pierpont Morgan Library (Dept. of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts) in New York. It dates to after Dec. 31, 867.

St. Theodore here is given the name, “Saint Apa Theodoros of Anatolos (Anatolia)”. Anatolia is in now modern Turkey, occupying the eastern – and most – part of it; and the word comes from the Greek ‘Ἀνατολή’ (Anatolḗ), which means ‘east’ or ‘sunrise’. Being from Anatolia, he came to be known as the Oriental, and is called in Copto-Arabic manuscripts ‘المشرقي’. This is a misleading translation; and a more accurate way is to call him Saint Theodore the Anatolian, as Manuscript M.613 rightly calls him. The official site of the Pierpont Morgan Library gives a summary of the painting:

Theodore Tyro, name inscribed, nimbed, wearing jewelled necklace and inscribed garment, armed with, or pierced by, sword, mounted on bridled horse wearing caparison (?), with stirrups, holding reins in left hand and with cross-surmounted lance in right hand transfixing prostrate demon, labelled, in form of serpent with human head, chained to object labelled “cathedra”, and trampled by the horse; the saint flanked above by two wreaths or possibly crowns, each held by Hand of God, emerging from arc of heaven.

The summary misreads the name given to the saint, and read it as “Theodore Tyro”, which is inaccurate.

To my knowledge, Manuscript M.613 has not yet been translated into any European language. One hopes that it will soon appear in English; and the importance of the manuscript exceeds its Coptic literature value to shed light on the life of Saint Theodore the Oriental (celebrated in the Coptic Synaxarium on 12 Tuba), and help makes the distinction between him and the other great warrior martyr, Theodore of Shawtp (20 Apip). The two martyrs are even more confused in Western sources, and are given the names Theodore of Amasea and Theodore Stratelates.

In the Coptic Synaxarium, St. Theodore the Oriental was from Antioch of Pisidea (also called, Antiochia in Phrygia) in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He was from an aristocratic family – his father was the minister of Emperor Numerianus (283 – 284). Theodore was an officer in the Roman army fighting the Persians. The story in the Synaxarium connects him to two other warrior martyrs, Leontius the Arab (22 Apip) and Panigerus the Persian (5 Tuba).[1]

[1] See: Réne Basset, Synaxaire Arabe-Jacobite in Patrologia Orientalis (Paris, 1907 to 1923).

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