March 4, 2020

A Brief History of the Iconography of Saint Gerasimos of Jordan

Earliest known image of St. Gerasimos in Novgorod from 1125

St. Gerasimos of Jordan was a father of monasticism in the Palestinian desert and reposed in 475 AD. Images of the Saint, however, are not known until the 12th century. The first known image of him is preserved in a mural painting of the slope of the arch of the central apse in the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Theotokos of Saint Anthony's Monastery in Novgorod dating to 1125. There he is depicted up to his shoulder in a medallion, in his right hand is a cross, the left is turned with his palm outward. This and other early images of the Saint typically only showed his face and upper body and in the context of other Holy Fathers of Palestinian desert. This is how he is also depicted by the iconographer Theodoros Apsevdis in the Monastery of Saint Neophytos in Paphos of Cyprus dating to 1183. Similar also is a wall painting from this time in the Monastery of Saint Theoktistos outside Jerusalem. The reason for the late depiction of the Saint is not known, but some scholars have speculated it may have to do with his brief flirtation with Monophysitism, as described by Cyril of Scythopolis in his Life of Euthymios.

Images from the 13th till the 16th century repeat the earlier tradition of depicting the Saint by himself with other Palestinian Holy Fathers. It wasn't until the 14th century that scenes from the life of the Saint began to be depicted also, such as his famous story with the lion as described by John Moschos in the Spiritual Meadow. The earliest is in the Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos in Thessaloniki and dates back to 1309-1319, located in the narthex. We find similar scenes in Bulgaria and Mount Athos after this. After this we also begin to see images of Saint Gerasimos with a lion by his side in Greek manuscripts in the 15th century, and in churches in Romania and Kosovo in the 16th century. The earliest Russian depiction of St. Gerasimos removing a splinter from the paw of the lion dates back to 1359 on the Lyudogoshchensky Cross from Novgorod. This image came to replace the image of the Saint depicted alone at this time throughout Russia and abroad.

St. Gerasimos in Paphos from 1183

St. Gerasimos in Kosovo

St. Gersimos in Serbia

St. Gerasimos in Thessaloniki from 1309-1319

Lyudogoshchensky Cross in Novgorod from 1359

Voronets Monastery in Romania from the 16th century