August 27, 2014

The Life and Lore of Saint Phanourios

St. Phanourios the Great Martyr and Newly Revealed (Feast Day - August 27)

By Dr. Helen Rossidou-Koutsou (Philologist - Byzantinist)

Little and vague is our knowledge from written tradition concerning the life of Saint Phanourios (as shown by his synaxarion).

His holy icon was found accidentally on August 27th sometime after 1350, in the ruins of a church in Rhodes. Since then it was established to celebrate the Saint on the day of the discovery of his icon.

As Turks were repairing the city walls, therefore, workers found the ruins of an old church with damaged icons. Among them was the sacred icon of Saint Phanourios. The Metropolitan of the island at that time was Neilos (1355-1369), and he read the inscription that said "Saint Phanourios". Though the Saint was unknown at that time, the Metropolitan restored the ruined church and established the feast day for the discovery of the icon. Thus Rhodes became the center for the veneration of Saint Phanourios, to whom many miracles are ascribed.

Very quickly honor towards the Saint spread to the Dodecanese, Cyprus, Crete, Chios, Lesvos and throughout the Greek land. In Crete two icons of the Saint have been preserved, that were painted by the renowned iconographer Angelos Akotantos (first half of the 15th cent.) and can be found in the Vrondisi Monastery, formerly Valsamonerou (Heraklion prefecture), who worked with the abbot of the Monastery and founder of the Chapel of Saint Phanourios in the Monastery, Jonah Palamas.

Saint Phanourios became popular by the alliteration of his name that contains the verb φαίνω or φανερώνω (revealing). He especially reveals lost objects when his name is invoked. This quality of the Saint expanded mainly from Crete, because prayers would be made to him for lost goats or stolen animals. The shepherds of Crete consider him their patron and the protector of their flocks. The faith of the people has associated his name with fortunate revelation. In some places he is regarded as a physician for headaches.

Requests towards the Saint to find lost or stolen objects is always accompanied by a tama or vowed offering. Over the years, however, a single tama has prevailed, the baking of the Phanouropita, which housewives tend to distribute to friends and neighbors with the prayer: "May God forgive the mother of Saint Phanourios". This was invented by the popular imagination because of the unknown biography of the Saint, who consider his mother to have been sinful and the Saint a bastard. Tradition, therefore, wants her to be very harsh and lacking in compassion for the poor, so that she didn't even repent of this in Hell, despite the fact that her son did everything he could to save her. According to other traditions, the Phanouropita is done for the forgiveness of the sister and sponsor of the Saint. The Phanouropita is baked by unmarried women so that the Saint would reveal a good husband for them. The Phanouropita is usually made with flour, water, sugar, clove, orange peel, orange or lemon juice, salt, raisins and walnuts.

Saint Phanourios is always depicted holding a lit candle, because he reveals lost items. According to his synaxarion, the original icon presents twelve scenes of his martyrdom in the outline. The iconographer Angelos, who was active artistically in Crete, depicts him with a youthful face, military clothing (chest with decorative gold striations, chained tunic with long sleeves, high socks and gaiters, spear and shield), hairstyle with small curls falling behind the ears, a typical cross and a candle mounted on it. It is striking that he has many common features with Saint George. In the icon above, which is stored in the Monastery of Megali Panagia in Patmos, Angelos depicts him standing on a dragon, just like Saint George.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.