Sassoferrato is a small town in the province of Ancona in Italy and is built over the ancient city Sentinum. After the total destruction of Sentinum by the Goths and the Lombards around the year 1000, the inhabitants of the area built a new castle and turned it into a small town around the year 1200.
The icon of Saint Demetrios came to the Municipal Museum of Sassoferrato from the collection of the humanist Niccolò Perotti (1429 - 1480), who was born in Sassoferrato and was the student and friend of the Greek papal cardinal Bessarion, whom he accompanied on his mission to Bologna in the years 1450 - 1455. According to the historian Sergio Bettini, Bessarion was probably the one who gave the icon to Perotti, who later gave it to his hometown.
In the center of the icon is a micro-mosaic image of Saint Demetrios dressed in his full military harness, holding a spear in his right hand and an elongated shield in his left which depicts a lion.
Just above the head of Saint Demetrios is a pilgrimage vial which contains holy myrrh from the tomb of the Great Martyr in Thessaloniki. On either side are inscribed ΙΣ ΧΣ ΝΙΚΑ (JESUS CHRIST CONQUERS).
On each side of the micro-mosaic icon of Saint Demetrios there is a silver frame with four diamonds on each side forming inscriptions written in Greek. The left inscription, which has today been lost, said the following according to an old photograph:
O GREAT MARTYR DEMETRIOS MEDIATE TO GOD THAT YOUR FAITHFUL SERVANT THE EARTHLY KING OF THE ROMANS JUSTINIAN GRANT ME VICTORY OVER MY ENEMIES AND SUBDUE THEM UNDER MY FEET.
The right inscription which has been preserved reads:
THIS EARTHEN VIAL CONTAINS HOLY MYRRH FROM THE CICTERN. FOR THE DEAD BODY OF THE MYRRHBEARING DIVINE DEMETRIOS PERFORMS WONDERS THROUGHOUT THE ECUMENE AND FOR THE FAITHFUL.
Right and left, in the upper corners of the icon, there are two crosses bearing four fire steles, which with the letter B indicate the expression KING OF KINGS, RULING OVER RULERS. Indeed, according to the historian Sathas, the four B's symbolize the four regions of the world, the whole ecumene.
On the right and left corners at the bottom of the icon is the two-headed eagle, while in the center there was a gem which has since disappeared and we read HOLY, HOLY.
The double-headed eagles and crosses with the fire steles are typical of the Palaiologian era of Byzantium and the last Roman emperors, and one of the inscriptions referred to Justinian II.
This micro-mosaic icon of Saint Demetrios dates back to 14th century Constantinople, the vial to the 13th or 14th century Thessaloniki, and the silver frame was embedded to the image around the 15th century in Italy.
The icon of Saint Demetrios of Sassoferrato came to Thessaloniki and was placed in the Holy Church of Saint Demetrios from the 24th of October until the 18th of November in 2005, on the occasion of 1700 years since the martyrdom of the Saint.
It should be noted that the myrrh collected from the tomb of Saint Demetrios, or earth mixed with his coagulated blood that was taken from the place of his martyrdom, was considered a relic.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.