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II. Some Remarks on the Image of Edessa

  • Steven Runciman (a1)

Christian relics have never received their due attention in history. Historians, justly suspecting the authenticity of the more eminent of them, have tended therefore to put them all to one side, forgetting that even a forgery can have its historical value; and only the theologians have taken notice of them, in their relations to the apocryphal improvements on Christian thought and story. This neglect is undeserved; for there are some of them that not only throw important sidelights on the history of their times, but even have played an active part in the moulding of that history.

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1 Addai and Aggai, according to Tixeront (Les Origines de l'Église d'Édesse, p. 151). The whole question is discussed and a hypothetical solution given in Burkitt, Early Eastern Churches, ch. i.

2 Gutschmidt's dates, given in Die Königsnamen in den apocryphen Apostelgeschichten, in the Rheinisches Museum, Neue Folge, xix, 2, 171.

3 There is also a fifth-century Armenian translation extant (Laboudna, Lettre d'Abgar) translated by the Mechitarist Father Alishan (Venice, 1818), and three ninth- and tenth-century Greek MSS based on it, the Codex Parisinus 548 of the Bibliotheque Nationale, and the Codex Vindobonensis XLV, which gave almost the same version, and the Codex Vindobonensis 315 which gives later variants. See Tixeront, op. cit.

4 The Doctrine of Addai, the Apostle, ed. and trans, by Phillips, (London, 1876), p. 5.

5 Evagrius, in Migne [Patrologia Graeca], LXXXVI, 2, 2748-

6 It is here that writers like Tixeront fail, in assuming that a legend at once creates the objects that it mentions. Early Christian mentality was not, I think, so invariably childish.

7 See the theological discussion in Tixeront, Origines, ch. iii. But he assumes that the Doctrine must post-date the visit of Sylvia-Etheria, because she mentions no icon. That argument is I think valueless. He is also badly handicapped by the fact that when he wrote, Moses of Chorene, who mentions the existence of the icon, was supposed to be a genuine fifth-century author.

8 Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, VII, 18, writing of the statue of Christ that Veronica set up at Caesarea Philippi.

9 Eusebius, Epistola ad Constantiam Augustam (in Migne, xx, 1545).

10 Given in full in Tischendorf, Evangelia Apocrypha, pp. 432 ff.

11 As in the account (written about 400) of Macarius of Magnesia, ed. Blondel, (Paris, 1878), p. 1.

12 I accept the dating given by Weigand (“Zur Datierung der Peregrinatio Aetheriae,” in Byzantinische Zeitschrift, xx, 1–26), who proves that Meister's date for the pilgrimage (533–540) is untenable, but Etheria visited Edessa shortly after the arrival of St Thomas's body there.

13 I owe this and the following argument to v. Dobschütz, Christusbilder, pp. 106 ff., where he points out that the bishop of this time was Jacob Baradaeus and offers this explanation which I have slightly augmented.

14 Procopius, De Bello Persico, I, 12.

15 Evagrius, loc. cit.

16 Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Narratio de Imagine Edessena, in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, CXI. It is also quoted in full in v. Dobschütz, Christusbilder, Beilage II. It was clearly not written by Constantine himself, but by one of his courtiers. See Rambaud, L'Empire Grec au Xme siècle, pp. 105 ff.

17 These words, quoted from the Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite (ed. and trans. Wright, P’ S3) were no doubt meant metaphorically to refer to Christ's promise of immunity to which Joshua frequently refers (ibid. pp. 47, 52). But the Constantinian writer seems to have heard of some such phrase and to have taken it literally—as was natural, the promise by now having been undeniably broken—hence he says that Abgar set up the icon before the gate of the city (Narratio, p. 59, in v. Dobschiitz's edition).

18 Moses of Chorene in his History of Armenia calls it merely “the icon of the Saviour—Pr'gtchagan badgherin” (p. 134 in Whiston's edition), but in the Geography (p. 362 in Whiston's edition) uses the Armenian equivalent of acheiropoietos, calling it an “antzerakordz badgher.”

19 Cedrenus, I, 185 (in Bonn edition), Menaeum of the Emperor Tiberius (ed. Imbrius, , Venice, 1895), pp. 75 ff.

20 The only variations lay in the question whether the Veronicas were made by water, sweat or the blood sweated at Gethsemane. The Image of Edessa at various times claimed each of these origins.

21 The whole history of the letter of Christ to Abgar is very obscure. Possibly even in the Middle Ages its authenticity was doubted—there was some question whether Christ's message was written or merely verbal (as in the Doctrine of Addai). Certainly it never seems to have been regarded as a major relic. Later we are told of two quite distinct occasions on which the letter was taken from Edessa to Constantinople.

22 John Damascene, in Migne, XCIV, De Fide Orthodoxa, ch. xvi, and De Imaginibus Oratio, 1, ch. xxvii.

23 Quoted by the Eastern patriarchs, see n. 26, p. 247.

24 The controversy hung largely on verbal subtleties, the difference between προσκύνησις and λατρεία—the former being the worship championed by the orthodox.

25 Nicephorus Patriarch, Antirrhetica, Migne, Patrologia Graeca, c, 461. He refers to it also by implication on p. 260.

26 Letter to Theophilus, under John Damascene in Migne, XCIV, 352.

27 Theodore Studites, in Migne, XCIX, 177.

28 νοερώς is the word that he employs.

29 Theodore Studites, in Migne, LXIV, 1288. He refers to it briefly on p. 1153.

30 “Mandil” has in Arabic the plural “Man-i-dil”—a form that few foreign words ever acquired. It means a cloth or handkerchief.

31 See the account given in Ali Ibn-Isa by Bowen, H. C. (Cambridge, 1928), to whom personally I am indebted for information on the Arabic attitude to the Image.

32 Actually all the reproductions described to us were made on tiles, so the bishop should not have had much difficulty. Two copies on tiles were shown to Anthony of Novgorod and to Robert de Clari (see below).

33 The Constantinian writer mentions the letter as coming with the Image, but Cedrenus, 11, 501 (in Bonn edition), speaks definitely of the letter written to Abgar by the hand of Christ coming to Constantinople in 1032.

34 Narratio de Imagine Edessena, pp. 73–85 in v. Dobschütz—the fullest and most credulous account: Theophanes Continuatus, pp. 432 ff. (Bonn edition), which has slight but not inconsistent variations.

35 “Vita S. Pauli in Latro” in Analecta Bollandiana, XI (1892), 150 ff.

36 Theophanes Cont. p. 432.

37 Their lists are given in De Riant, Exuviae Sacrae Constantinopolitanae, II, 211 ff. Nicholas of Thingeyrar's maettull is clearly the same as William of Malmesbury's mantile; but the latter adds “quod visui Domini applicatum imaginem vultus eius retinuit,” whereas Nicholas does not apparently possess this information.

38 The bull is quoted in full in De Riant, op. cit. II,13s ff. De Riant (Exuviae, I, clxxxi) is certainly right in identifying this toella as the Image. Robert de Clari calls it a touaile (ibid. loc. cit.) in his inventory of relics taken at the time of the capture of the city; and it occurs at roughly the same place in the Chrysobull as in the various lists.

39 Xavier, Historia Christi, ed. de Dieu (Leyden, 1694), p. 358.

40 Baronius, Annales Eccles. ad ann. 944, no. XVI.

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