Russian Icons

St. Demetrius of Thessalonica

St. Demetrius of Thessalonica Pskov Among the most revered of Byzantine Saints, Demetrios ruled Thessalonica in the late third and early fourth centuries when the Roman Emperors, Diocletian and Maximian, actively condemned his Christian faith. Hailed as the defender and patron of Thessalonica, a vision of Saint Demetrios is said to have stopped an attacking army of Slavs. The iconographic representation of Saint Demetrios in this work is essentially unique in Russian art and was probably inspired by half-length images of warrior-saints in Byzantine art. Despite his soldier's attire and sword, the large cross held in Demetrios' right hand stresses his martyrdom, which is underscored by the vermilion cloak symbolizing suffering and death. Following the Russian victory over the Mongols in the late fourteenth century, a cult of St. Demetrios grew. He was venerated as a defender of the Motherland and as an exemplar of righteous might. The account of the battle of Kulikov, part of the defensive campaign against the Mongols, refers to Demetrios and other saints aiding the Russian army on the battlefield. Certain icons even depict the saint as striking the Mongol leader with his spear. Prior to the Battle of Kulikov, Prince Donskoi had a famous icon of St. Demetrios moved from Vladimir to Moscow, installing it in the Cathedral of the Dormition in a special chapel. After the battle, the Saturday before the saint's day was dedicated to those who had died fighting, and became known as "Demetrios' Saturday." Scholars believe that the style of this icon indicates it was made in Pskov. The use of dark grayish-green underpaint for the face with an overlay of whitened ocher without rouge and the use of cinnabar, green, and mineral colors, as well as gold in the robes, all speak for a Pskovian origin. The people of Pskov, under constant threat of attack from Lithuanian and Polish forces, were devoted to the cult of Demetrios. As early as the twelfth century, they erected a stone church in the name of the saint and mounted his icons on the city wall when they were under siege.
Copyright ©. George Mitrevski.