Εικόνα της αγίας Θεοδοσίας της Κωνσταντινουπολίτισσας στη ΝάξοPart of : Δελτίον της Χριστιανικής Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας ; Vol.40, 2001, pages 215-228
An Icon of Saint Theodosia the Constantinopolitan in Naxos
The icon (0.984x0.69 m) is placed on the iconostasis of the homonymous church and former small monastery at Niochori in the Chora of Naxos. It represents the nun St Theodosia in bust below a painted arch, holding the martyr's cross in her left hand and bringing her right onto her chest with the palm outwards. She is depicted young and with portrait features: large eyes, thick arched eyebrows, full pink lips and rosy cheeks. The distinctive iconographie element of the representation is the cream scarf, peculiar in form and function, wound round her long cylindrical neck and set off by the shape and arrangement of her wimple. The pale olive green wimple with gold border band falls over a high polos, its vertical inner outlines describing a rectangular frame to the face and neck. Stylistically the work bespeaks an accomplished artist of the first half of the fifteenth century, with traits very close to the media of the well-known painter Angelos. Proposed interpretation of the particular iconographie elements of the representation The scarf around St Theodosia's neck and the special arrangement of the wimple over a high polos, in order to project it characterize all the known -albeit few- depictions of her, as has been noted elsewhere. Cited here are the early fourteenth-century wall-painting at Bogorodica Ljeviska and the menologion at Staro Nagoricino. The element of the draped cloth around the saint's neck is here still rendered cautiously and discreetly. The same iconographie elements are also present in the Palaeologan icon of the saint, Τ 179, formerly in the Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, and now in the Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki, as well as in the miniature representation in the lower margin of the fifteenth-century icon of the Virgin of Tenderness Τ 139 in the Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens. St Theodosia is well represented in the Monastery of St Catherine on Mt Sinai, where five portable icons of her were located, published by Doula Mouriki and Georgios Galavaris. However, only one of these, the Palaeologan icon, depicts the saint below an arch. This Sinai icon contributes significantly to the identification of the Theodosia on the Naxos icon as St Theodosia the Constantinopolitan, since there the standing figure holds in front on her chest a small icon of Christ, which alludes to an episode known from her synaxarion. At the time of Iconomachy and in the reign of Emperor Leon III Isaurus, or according to another version Constantine Copronymus, Theodosia saved from destruction the icon of Christ upon the Chalke Gate of Constantinople. An abbess and iconophile in this period, she endeavoured, with the help of the nuns in her convent, to prevent a spatharìos of the emperor from harming the highly revered Constantinopolitan icon. At the spatharios's refusal to desist from his task, Theodosia shook the high ladder on top of which he was standing and the imperial official fell to his death. The nuns accompanying Theodosia were beheaded on the spot, while she was led to a cattle stall or Leomakellos and slain with a ram's horn. All the particular iconographie elements of the Sinai icon and the large and important Naxos icon seem to allude to the Constantinopolitan St Theodosia and to her martyrdom of rare savagery. First the polos that her wimple covers was, during the Palaeologan period at least, a distinctive trait of holy women holding high office in the monastic hierarchy and of high birth. In Palaeologan illuminated menologia the hosies with high polos are without exception those who held the office of abbess or deaconess, such as Hosia Xene, Hosia Matrona of Perge, Hosia Eugenia the virgin martyr. Hosies of high social rank, without necessarily holding the title of abbess, are normally, though not always, depicted with the same iconographie element too. Hosia Theodosia the Constantinopolitan is known to have combined both qualities; she was an abbess at the time of her martyrdom and the distinction of noble birth seems to be a main characteristic of her, since apart from the explicit reference to this in her synaxarion -'of noble and wealthy parents'- she may have been identified with Mary the Patrician, to whom the incident with the ladder and the death of the spatharios, that was later associated with Theodosia, was attributed initially. The sumptuous and secular character of the saint's wimple in the Naxos icon, which is executed in pastel tones and with a gold border band, deviating clearly from the epirrhiptarion of the monastic habit, further advocates this identification. The iconographie detail of the scarf, draped or not, around the saint's neck, which is indicated independent of the nun's wimple or headdress and is emphasized in both the Sinai and the Naxos icon, without being applied in the same form elsewhere, becomes in the end characteristic of a particular iconography of St Theodosia the Constantinopolitan. It is deduced from the above that this iconographie type belongs exclusively to St Theodosia the Constantinopolitan and alludes to the iconophile saint's martyrdom, of rare kind and cruelty, our principal source for which is the dramatic description in her encomia and vitae. Cited here are descriptions such as that in the twelfthcentury MS 109 in the Koutloumousiou monastery, in which the executioner aims the ram's horn 'at the very middle of the saint's throat'; in earlier synaxaria such as the Jerusalem Stavros codex 40, where the executioner 'fiercely struck the nape of the neck'; the later Vita of the hosia by Nikodemos the Athonite, in which the executioner aims the ram's horn at the saint's mouth and slits her artery. However, the most revealing description of the saint's injured neck is that given in the oration of Konstantinos Akropolites, as preserved in Vatican MS 800, in which the executioner 'drives the horn through the uvula and vertebrae, severing them... takes away life'. This specific information that the ram's horn passed through the uvula and broke bones in the saint's neck indicates most probably that Theodosia's martyrdom was so well-known in its tragic details that Byzantine iconography was able to denote it discreetly by emphasizing the crucial feature of her neck with the inventive element of the scarf around it. Moreover, a reference to her wounded neck is also denoted in the miracle worked by the saint's relic in this period, on a deaf and dumb child. It is thus no mere coincidence that the neck of the saint in the Naxos icon was adorned much later, most probably in the late eighteenth century, with a silver ex-voto in the form of an embroidered scarf, signifying that in the consciousness of the faithful, in Naxos at least, this strange element had retained its meaning.