April 17, 2010

Newly-Revealed Martyrs Leonides and His Seven Companions

St. Leonides of Troezen and his Seven Companions (Feast Day - April 16)

The Holy Martyr Leonides and the Holy Martyrs Charissa, Nike, Galina, Kalisa (Kalida), Nunekhia, Vasilissa, and Theodora suffered at Corinth in the days of Emperor Decius (249-251 AD).

Leonides was a teacher of the Church in Troezen of Peloponnesos. He was brought to Corinth for trial for his Christian faith before the governor Venousto during Holy Week along with the seven women who were later martyred with him. Venousto tried to convince Leonides and the seven women to recant their faith, but they remained steadfast. Leonides was tortured by being suspended and scraped with a sharp instrument. When all tortures failed, Venousto condemned them all to be drowned in the Gulf of Corinth.

Before being thrown into the sea, Leonides looked up to heaven and said: "Behold! And with this second baptism today have I been baptized, which makes the man within us more clean." They were thrown into the sea but the sea received them not. They walked upon the sea as upon dry land and it is said that Saint Charissa sang to God with the words of the Prophetess Mariam: "On the field of battle, I ran O Lord, and the army pursued me; O Lord I did not deny You; O Lord, save my soul!" Seeing them, the heathens at first were amazed, but after they overtook them on a ship as the Saints continued chanting the hymn. They tied stones around their necks and again threw them into the depths of the sea and they drowned. Their martyrdom occurred on Holy Saturday.

Their martyrology, dating from the 13th century, offers the following note after the bodies of the martyrs were washed ashore: "Pious men, dragging the bodies of the Saints lying on the beach, having attended to them, with honor they buried them, having built a church on the spot where the bodies were both augustly venerated and extolled everlastingly, and to those who approach faithfully they make to gush out healings each time."[1]

The Miraculous Discovery of Their Relics

Sixteen centuries later, in 1916, their relics were discovered when they appeared in the visions of pious residents of New Epidaurus and encouraged them to dig for their relics in the ruins of an old church "to find a hidden treasure". At the spot which they were told to dig they found at first an icon of the Panagia. Thinking this was the treasure they returned to their houses but continued having dreams. They thus returned to dig deeper and at a 70 cm depth they found a sarcophagus in which were the relics of the seven female martyrs and another sarcophagus in which were the relics of Saint Leonides which were fragrant. Immediately the residents built a church in their honor and displayed the holy relics of the martyrs for veneration.

The Church of Saint Leonides is located in New Epidaurus. Every year on his feast day the relics of Saint Leonides and his companions are processed from the Annunciation Church (which houses the larnax with the martyr's relics) to the Church of Saint Leonides for the festivities.

The relationship between Saint Leonides and Epidaurus is not exactly known. We do know that in 1833 a priest by the name of Fr. Nikolaos Natsoulis built a church in honor of the holy martyr Leonides and in his apolytikion he is called "the great defender of Epidaurus".

In 1916, during the time when the Saints were revealing the location of their relics, a woman in black appeared to a resident of Epidaurus who said to him: "Go and dig there and you will find a treasure". He went and found an icon of the Panagia. On that spot a church was built which is located beside the road of Epidaurus-Dyropes down from New Epidaurus.

A little while later the same woman in black told the man to go elsewhere and dig to find another yet greater treasure. He and others went and found a limestone coffin with fragrant bones which belonged to Saint Leonides. They were placed in the Church of the Annunciation in New Epidaurus and only on the feast day of the Saint do his bones go to the Church of Saint Leonides of Troezen. A portion of his relics are in the Church of Saint Leonides and another portion are in the Cathedral of Saint George in Poros.

It should be noted that when the relics were first discovered it was believed Saint Leonides was the Bishop of Athens commemorated in the Synaxarion the day prior on April 15th. But serious inquiry was made by Metropolitan Chrysostomos II of Argolidas, and he discovered that the relics of Saint Leonides were not those of the Athenian but of the Martyr with his seven companions commemorated on April 16th.[2]


A few years after the revelation of the relics of the Saints, two men from Aegina arrived at New Epidaurus on a small boat in order to buy some lemons. They were informed about the discovery of the Saint's relics and therefore went to the church in order to venerate their relics. After venerating the relics they left, but not without taking a tiny portion of the relic for their safety.

When the men entered their boat to leave after doing their shopping, the ship was unable to move. No matter how much effort they put into trying to move their small boat, it would not budge. One of the men then prayed: "My Saint Leonides, we piously venerated your relics and took a small portion of your relics for safety. Work then your miracle so that we may leave." When the local Epidaurians heard this they told the men that the reason they were unable to move was because they stole the relic and that they should return it if they wanted to leave.

When the men returned the relic, they departed on their boat without any hindrance or difficulty.

The Lechaion Basilica (or Basilica of Leonides) and Baptistry

Lechaion, Corinth is an old harbor that lies north of Ancient Corinth. The Lechaion is located 4 kilometers or 2.5 miles west of the modern town of Corinth. In the years of 1956 to 1961, Greek archaeologists brought Lechaion, Corinth to light and recognition.

The Lechaion basilica was not only the largest in Corinth, but the largest known in the world in its time.[3] It is located along the Corinthian Gulf, just west of the harbor works of Lechaion. It is built on the location in which Saint Leonides and the seven martyrs with him were buried following their drowning in the Gulf. The structure was constructed in the late fifth or early sixth century and the atrium was added at a slightly later date.[4]

A three-aisled basilica with a tripartite transept, esonarthex, exonarthex and atrium, the Lechaion basilica was extremely ornate and possessed a variety of different marbles and capital types. A huge vaulted apse, pierced with multiple windows dominated the east end. Of particular note is the large fountain in the atrium and the other indication of extensive water works. Multiple side rooms and perhaps associated buildings to the south were for liturgical use, teaching, and probably storage. The basilica rivaled the best of the ecclesiastical buildings in the east.[5]

The baptistery is a separate construction, earlier than the basilica and later joined to the basilica by two walls. There is some indication that the baptistery continued to be used for liturgy after the main basilica was damaged and abandoned, presumably as a result of mid-sixth century seismic activity. "The baptistery proper is an octagonal with a central font and an eastern apse. To the north of this building stands the remains of another centrally planned structure, with a square core and apsidal projections on each side. The apsidal hall suggests a space for educating catechumens and the northern of the two centrally planned structures may represent a space for the pre-baptismal preparations or anointing. The baptistery itself evokes martyria and tombs in Italy and North Africa, and this may allude to the function of the church and baptistery as a martyr shrine. If the building is dedicated to Saint Leonides and his companions who were drowned for their faith nearby, then this might explain the significance of this site as a place of baptism."[6][7]

1. Halkin, F. "Saint Leonide et ses sept compagnes martyrs a Corinthe," EEBS 23 (1953), 217-223.

2. For source on this information, see here: http://www.amen.gr/index.php?mod=news&op=article&aid=2162
. It should be noted that there is much confusion about how the relics got to New Epidaurus, which is outlined here.

3. From the atrium to the apse the basilica measures 223 meters, as opposed to St. Peter's in Rome at 186 meters, and Hagia Sophia in Constantinope at 109 meters.

4. A coin of Marcion (450-457) was found in the foundations of one of the walls; a coin of Anastasius I (491-518) was found under the paving. The walls of the atrium do not bond with those of the basilica; a coin of Justin I (518-527) was found in association with the construction of the atrium.

5. Rothaus, Richard M. Corinth: The First City of Greece. Brill Publishers, Netherlands, 2000 (pp. 96-97).

6. Caraher, William. "
Early Christian Baptistries: A Short Discussion, 2010."

7. For the relationship between baptistries and the martyrs, see "
Pilgrimage and Baptism ad Sanctos in Roman Africa". For the relationship between this baptistry, the baptism of catechumens, the martyrdom by drowning of St. Leonides and his companions, and Easter see "Some thoughts on St. Leonidas and Baptism at Lechaion in Greece".