Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Fate of the Relics of the Apostle Philip

St. Philip the Apostle (Feast Day - November 14 and July 31)

In 2001 I had the opportunity to visit the city known in ancient times as Hierapolis, in Asia Minor. My main purpose in visiting the ruins of this once famous city was to see the remarkable octagonal Martyrium of the Apostle Philip, who according to tradition was martyred by being crucified upside-down by the superstitious pagans of Hierapolis. This was said to have occurred approximately around the year 80 AD.

There was a strong tradition upheld regarding the location of the relics of the Holy Apostle Philip following his martyrdom. The earliest testimonial to the Apostle Philip's final resting place being at Hierapolis comes from a letter by Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, to Victor, bishop of Rome (c. 189-198). An extract from this letter, written c. 190, has been preserved by Eusebius:

"For in Asia, also, great luminaries have fallen asleep, who shall rise again on the last day during the parousia of the Lord when He comes with glory out of heaven to gather all the saints, (including) Philip, of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis and his two daughters, elderly virgins, and another of his daughters who after living in the Holy Spirit rests in Ephesus."

A second century follower of the heretic Montanus named Proclus adds to Polycrates' testimony regarding the existence of tombs of the Apostle Philip and his daughters. In the account of his debate with Gaius, he writes:

"After him there were four prophetesses, the daughters of Philip, in Hierapolis in Asia; their tomb is there and that of their father."

It should be explained that Proclus was leader of the Montanists in Rome, and this may account for the discrepancy regarding the details of how many dughters of the Apostle Philip were actually buried in Hierapolis. Polycrates, living nearer to Hierapolis and being bishop in the city where one of St. Philip's daughters was said to be buried, is considered a much more reliable witness as far as the details are concerned. However, it is also possible that Proclus did know this detail, but for apologetic purposes embellished the truth a bit.

Why would Proclus embellish the truth? Because it was in his best interest as a leader of a movement that based itself on the prophetic powers of Montanus and his two closest disciples Prisca and Maximilla, also known as "the Three". Montanus originated his movement at Hierapolis where Papias was bishop at the time and it flourished throughout the region of Phrygia. Montanus in many ways may have seen himself as another Apostle Philip with his prophetesses "living in the Spirit", as Polycrates put it. The Montanists traced their prophetic tradition to Philip's daughters and back even further to other prophets, and the Martyrium must have played a significant role in the life and witness of the "New Prophecy" in Hierapolis.

However, scholars have long speculated why the above two testimonies of Polycrates and Proclus identify the Apostle Philip with the four prophetess daughters. After all, the New Testament accounts are very clear that it was not the Philip the Apostle with four prophetess daughters, but Philip the Evangelist, one of the first seven deacons, who had four prophetess daughters (Acts 6:1-7; 21:8-9). If indeed this were Philip the Apostle, then the fact that he died with his "two daughters" who were "elderly virgins" would be somewhat of a contradiction with the more reliable testimony of Clement of Alexandria, who says his daughters married: "Or do they also scorn the apostles? Peter and Philip had children, and Philip gave his daughters in marriage" (Miscellanies, 3.6.52). Though Clement here does not say how many daughters Philip had nor is he clear if he had them all married or just a few. It may be possible both Philip the Apostle and Philip the Evangelist had four prophetess daughters, but it is more unlikely that the testimonies of Polycrates and Proclus have blended two traditions either out of confusion or deliberately.

Because of this confusion most scholars today dismiss the idea that it was the Apostle Philip who was martyred and venerated in Hierapolis, and prefer to believe the testimonies of the above two witnesses that lend more credence to the fact that it was Philip the Evangelist who was martyred and venerated in Phrygia. Others who do regard Hierapolis as being indeed the place of martyrdom and veneration of the Apostle Philip point to the possibility that Philip the Apostle may have also had virgin daughters who followed him that may have been prophetesses. Though these are both valid theories, I don't believe either are entirely factual.

To understand possible alternative theories we would need to dig a bit deeper into the evidence. So far we know of a tradition of a certain Philip and his daughters being buried in Hierapolis existing early on and this is a reliable testimony to its truth. We also know that in the second century Montanism originated in Hierapolis as a sort of "charismatic" movement within the early church which emphasized the gift of prophecy. What we don't know yet is the fact that Montanism continued to exist in isolated areas of Phrygia, where it flourished until the eighth century. What is also important is how long the Martyrium of the Apostle Philip lasted and how long his relics lay there.

The Martryium to the Apostle Philip was built either in the late fourth century or early fifth century. It may be possible that it was built by Emperor Theodosius who, in a vision, received from St. John the Theologian and St. Philip the Apostle the assurance of victory over the tyrant Eugenius, the morning before the battle, in 394, as Theodoret relates. However its existence as a shrine where the relics of the Apostle Philip could be venerated lasted no more than a century or so. It has been commonly explained that this was due to the great number of earthquakes which frequently struck the region of Phrygia. We know it was destroyed by fire from the archaeological evidence, but what brought on this fire is unknown. However this does not account for it not being rebuilt during the peak of medieval Roman power. What seems more likely, or at least in combination with the frequent earthquakes, is that the shrine of the Apostle Philip may have been overtaken by Montanists and became a means for Montanism to continue flourishing in the region of Phrygia. After all, in the sixth century, at the orders of the Emperor Justinian, John of Ephesus led an expedition to Pepuza (approx. 20 miles from Hierapolis, Pepuza was called by Montanus the "New Jerusalem") to destroy the Montanist shrine there, which was based around the tombs of Montanus, Prisca (Priscilla) and Maximilla. Was there possibly a connection between this shrine and the shrine of the Apostle Philip? Is it possible the relics of the Apostle Philip were removed at this time by order of Emperor Justinian to give them a better home in Constantinople, and in turn the Martyrium destroyed by the same emperor to prevent the spread of Montanism? After all, the burning of a structure primarily built of stone is unlikely to have been accidental. It is strange that a martyrium devoted to keeping alive the memory of one of twelve apostles would have been destroyed so soon, unless that martyrium were deemed to have been tainted in some way by heretics and schismatics. This is only speculation, but I leave it open as a possible theory because what we do know is that while the Martyrium of Philip burned to the ground never to be rebuilt, his relics were brought to Constantinople and housed there, probably in the Church of the Holy Apostles, for a short time.

The interesting thing is that we have no testimony about the relics of St. Philip's daughters being housed in the Martyrium. They may have been there, but we just don't know and nothing about their relics are ever mentioned beyond the two testimonies quoted above. This fact leaves us with a number of questions and possibilities. Personally, I do not believe the Philip martyred in Hierapolis was Philip the Evangelist, but do in fact believe that it was indeed the Apostle Philip as tradition strongly hands down. All the testimonies we have reference this Philip venerated in Hierapolis as being the apostle, while a strong tradition holds that Philip the Evangelist became bishop of Tralles in Lydia and died there in his old age; most likely with his four daughters. There is also archaeological evidence in the necropolis of Hierapolis, such as the inscription of Eugenios the Archdeacon who, though a probable Montanist, is described as being "in charge [of the church] of the holy and glorious apostle and theologian Philip". One possibility however could be that the relics of two of the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist were brought to Hierapolis by Montanists from somewhere, since they wanted their patrons near them in the city Montanism originated. If this is the case, it may have been the Montanists who confused the two Philip's in order to have that charismatic continuity between Philip the Evangelists prophetic daughters and their own movement which they ascribed to the Holy Spirit in their native Phrygia. Another possibility could be that the two women known as Philip the Apostle's daughters were in fact his two daughters, but they had nothing to do with Philip the Evangelist's four daughters. Though they may not have accompanied Philip the Apostle on his apostolic journey's, they may have come following his martyrdom either as virgins or widows to continue their father's mission. To give credibility to this possibility, we should mention that in a passage in Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 3.39) he quotes Papias (whose writings only appear in fragments mainly within Eusebius) stating that Philip the Apostle's daughters were still alive in his time telling stories of the apostles: "That Philip the Apostle lived at Hierapolis with his daughters has already been mentioned, but it must now be told told how Papias, who knew them, heard a wonderful story from Philip's daughters. He tells of the resurrection of a corpse in his own lifetime...." Interestingly Papias, through Eusebius, does not mention anything about Philip's daughters being four in number nor of being prophetesses, though he does mention they had the power to raise the dead.


Yet, another possibility as to who the two daughters of the Apostle Philip could have been is taken from the tradition of his preaching in Hierapolis and his martyrdom from the Synaxarion. We are told in this testimony that Philip was accompanied by the Apostle Bartholomew and Philip's sister, Mariamna, who was a virgin. We also know that in Hierapolis Philip is said to have helped convert about 100 virgins from paganism to Christianity. Furthermore we are informed he and his companions helped bring about a conversion in the wife of the ruler of that region, who requested of her pagan husband to live a chaste marriage. Could it be that those virgins converted by Philip the Apostle were considered spiritual daughters of his and two of them, possibly even his sister and the wife of the leader of the region in his time, were preserved next to him and confused with the Apostle's physical daughters? It's a possibility, but still mere speculation.

The evidence and all these possible explanations merely point to one probable fact: that the Martyrium of Philip housed the actual relics of the Apostle Philip. We also know at some point his relics, with no mention of his daughters, were taken to Constantinople. By the sixth century the date of his martyrdom, together with that of the Apostle James the Less, appears as May 1, but that is actually the date of the dedication of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Rome, which Pope Pelagius I (556-561) began to construct at the time of the removal of the bodies of the two apostles (or a significant part of them at least, since later testimonies reveal portions of the relics of the Apostle Philip still in Constantinople) from Constantinople, probably in 560, and which was completed by Pope John III (561-574) with possible economic aid from the Eastern Roman viceroy Narses. The tradition of the presence of significant relics of Philip in Rome was confirmed by a survey which took place in 1873. Up to that date a reliquary containing his right foot, almost intact (and another reliquary containing the femur of James the Less) was preserved in the Basilica of Santi Apostoli while the bodies of the two apostles were venerated under the central altar. Excavations in January 1873 brought to light a conglomarate of plaster and bricks under which lay two slabs of Phrygian marble (possibly from Hierapolis) exactly alongside, bearing a Greek cross (with equal arms) carved in relief, and below them, perpendicularly beneath the altar, a loculus in which there was a small chest containing some bones, most of them fragments or flakes, some teeth and a quantity of compacted material consisting of decayed bone, and also residues of fabric that subsequently analyzed proved to be wool with a valuable purple dye. The tests on the finds were done by a scholarly committee including pathologists, physicists, chemists and archaeologists (among others, Angelo Secchi, Giovanni Battista De Rossi and Pietro Ercole Visconti), and a detailed report was written and published. It was possible to make out that the remains belonged to two distinct adult males. To one, Philip, more slender in build, were attributed the bones surviving intact (in particular fragments of a scapula, a femur and skull) and also the foot kept in the reliquary; to the other of more robust build, in particular a molar (belonging to James the Less). It was not however possible to attribute to either of the two individuals the remaining fragments because of their state of decay. The archaeological context undoubtedly dated to the sixth century, and therefore the building constructed by Pelagius I and John III. The survey thus confirmed the accuracy of the report on the removal of 560. The quantity of the relics suggests that part of them were dispersed in the removals (at least two for each apostle) from the East to Rome. In 1879, after a certain period on display for the veneration of the faithful, the relics found under the altar were placed in a bronze coffer within a marble sarcophagus set up in the crypt of the church, below the place where they were found. The relic of the foot was left out, in a reliquary, which is not currently on display to the faithful.

According to a recent story, a Peace Corps volunteer, Tom Bissell, went in search of the various resting places of the twelve apostle of Jesus. When he came to Rome he lamented the sorry state of the relics of two great apostles:

"...the Church of the Holy Apostles in Rome, which holds relics of Sts. Philip and James, draws few pilgrims. When he visited, Bissell said, the church was frequented mainly by street people coming for charity.

Bissell said the local priest at Holy Apostles told him he was the first person in his eight years there who ever came asking about Sts. Philip and James. Their bones, after earlier sojourns in the ancient cities of Hierapolis and Constantinople, are preserved in a crypt below the main altar."


Though the relics of the Apostle have fallen into relative obscurity in Rome, this is not the case on the island of Cyprus. A portion of the skull of St. Philip the Apostle reached Paphos, specifically the village of Arsos, following the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders in 1204. It was transferred to Cyprus specifically on July 31, 1204, hence its annual feast day which is celebrated by the faithful till this day. A church dedicated to the Apostle Philip was built in this village to house the miraculous skull (which has four imperial seals on it, among which is that of Emperors Theodosius the Great and Heraclius), and today is considered one of the areas oldest monuments. A section of this piece of the skull was distributed to various places. When Constantinople was restored to the Romans in the late thirteenth century the relic of the Apostle was transferred to another village in Paphos, known as Arsinoi, for security reasons. The reliquary containing the relics was stolen in 1735, so in 1770 Metropolitan Panaretos of Paphos had another reliquary made which is the same we see today. For purposes of greater security, in 1788, the silver reliquary containing the skull of the Apostle (along with a crown that was made for the skull in 14th or 15th century Constantinople) were transferred to the ancient Monastery of the Holy Cross in Omodos where it remains till this day. Also to this day, many miracles occur by the grace of God coming through this skull.



The Martyrium of the Apostle Philip
The Church of the Holy Apostles in Rome
The crypt of the Apostles Philip and James in Rome
The tomb of the Apostle Philip in Rome
The skull of St. Philip in Cyprus

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