July 8, 2012

The Veneration of St. Prokopios in the Time of the Crusades


By Georgios Tsantilas

Exhibited today in the great hall of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is the vita icon of St Prokopios (Fig. 2), which according to tradition was found beside what are considered to be the tombs of saints Prokopios and Modestos, in Jerusalem. It is the only surviving vita icon of the saint.

In the central panel of the icon, St Prokopios is represented in bust framed by seventeen scenes from his life (Figs 3-6). The cycle of St Prokopios in the Jerusalem icon follows faithfully the Vita written by Niketas David the Paphlagonian and the arrangement of the scenes corresponds exactly to the narrative sequence in that text. This case is not unique, since in the vita icon of St Catherine in the Sinai monastery, the twelve scenes from her cycle correspond to the Vita composed by Symeon Metaphrastes.

The vita icon of St Prokopios includes a series of Western ele­ments, which permit the more precise definition of its date as well as the milieu within which it was created. The rela­tionship of this icon both to illuminated manuscripts that are ascribed to scriptoria operating in Acre and to Crusader icons in the monastery of St Catherine on Mt Sinai, dating to the second half of the thirteenth century, as well as the com­bination of punched and incised design in its execution, which is encountered after the mid-thirteenth century, lead to the attribution of the icon to a Crusader workshop in Acre and its dating after the mid-thirteenth century but before the fall of that city in 1291. More specifically, the icono­graphie and stylistic affinity with codex Add. 15268 in the British Library (c. 1285) lead to the dating of the icon of St Prokopios in the 1280s.

The boosting of the veneration of St Prokopios by the Cru­saders is confirmed by another three notable thirteenth-cen­tury works in the Sinai monastery, all of them associated with the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. These are the icon of St Prokopios created at Sinai by the painter Petros from Jerusalem in the early thirteenth century, the epistyle with the great Deesis including the two saints Prokopios and George, and the diptych with St Prokopios on the left and the Virgin and Child on the right (Fig. 7α-γ). The last two works are dated to the second half of the thirteenth century and are ascribed to Crusader artists located in Acre.

In the last scene on the Jerusalem icon, representing the saint's burial, a ciborium is visible behind his sarcophagus. It is identified as the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (Fig. 6). This depiction, combined with the fact that this is the only scene in the cycle that bears an inscription, leads to the conclusion that the painter had incorporated in his work elements ex­tracted from the contemporary surrounding reality and thus indicated that the martyr's tomb was in Jerusalem.

The church of St Prokopios in Jerusalem is attested in the Georgian Calendar as well as in sources of the period of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The textual testimonies are confirmed by excavation findings at Abou Thor, where the ruins of a three-aisled basilica of the sixth century were re­vealed, and beneath this a crypt of the fourth century. The archaeological findings clearly demonstrate that the basilica was renovated during the period of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The tombs of Sts Prokopios and Modestos are considered to have been located on this site.

The discovery of the icon of St Prokopios close to his tomb, as well as the iconography of the last scene, directly connect the work with the church of St Prokopios and his relic in Jerusalem. The linking of the vita icon with churches in which the tomb or relic of the saint was situated is docu­mented not only by the icon of St Prokopios but also by two vita icons of St John the Lampadistes in the homonymous monastery on Cyprus, where a twelfth century parekklesion accommodates the saint's tomb. The vita icon of St Cather­ine in the Sinai monastery is also associated with her relic, which existed in the monastery at least from the early thir­teenth century.

The linking of the vita icons of Prokopios, John the Lam­padistes and Catherine with their relics, in Jerusalem, Cyprus and Sinai respectively, places yet another interpretative para­meter with regard to the function and use of vita icons in the Eastern Mediterranean during the thirteenth century.

Read more and see icons here.