The Holy Martyr Blaise of Sebastia was a bishop of Sebastia in Cappadocia (modern Sivas, Turkey) who suffered for Christian faith in the early 4th century AD during the reign of emperors Diocletian and Lycinium.
The accounts of Blaise’s martyrdom survived only in the hagiographic literature. There are several versions of his Martyrdom, one of which was written by Symeon the Metaphrast in the late 10th century, there are earlier accounts, too.
According to these accounts, during the times of persecutions of Christians, St. Blaise secluded himself on Mount Argeos where he prayed in silence. His hagiography notes the saint’s special treatment of animals. St. Blaise healed wild animals that came to his cave. The governor of Sebastia Agricolaus, when informed about the saint hiding out in the mountains, ordered to have him brought to him. On the way to the emperor St. Blaise cured people from illnesses and converted them to Christianity. According to legend, he healed a poor woman’s son who was dying of a fishbone stuck in his throat and spoke to a wolf telling it to release a pig it had stolen from a woman. Governor Agricolaus forced St. Blaise to deny Christ and worship pagan idols. The saint refused to do so and was subjected to cruel torture and killed. The governor ordered to have him drowned in a lake but after a prayer St. Blaise walked on the water like on the ground. The enraged Agricolaus ordered to have the saint beheaded. St. Blaise was executed together with some of his followers; their bodies were buried on the site of the execution.
In Byzantine the holy martyr Blaise of Sebastia was venerated as a healer, while in Rus he was considered the patron of domestic animals.
In Byzantine and medieval Russian art, the holy martyr Blaise of Sebastias was commonly depicted as an old man with grey hair and a beard wearing clerical vestments – a phelonion, light-colored surplice and omphorion, holding a Gospel in hands. The earliest surviving image of the saint is a 7th – 8th century fresco at the Church of Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome. One of the earliest images of the bishop of Sebastia in Rus is featured on an 1199 fresco at the Church upon Neretiditsa near Veliky Novgorod. In iconography the saint is commonly represented along with other saints, who are considered the patrons of agriculture and cattle-breeding; the saint is sometimes depicted with domestic animals such as on an early 15th century icon of St. Blaise and St. Spiridon, the bishop of Trimithous from the State Historical Museum collections.
The feast of the holy martyr Blaise of Sebastia is celebrated on February 24th (February 11, O.S.).
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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