THERMAL SPRINGS, CALCIUM CARBONATE, AND THE “MIRACLE OF THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL AT KHONAE”

In modern Turkey — Asia Minor — there is a town called Honaz.  In pre-Islamic Byzantine days it was called Χῶναι — Khonai.  Very close by was the city of  Κολοσσαί — Kolossai, which is the place named in the New Testament’s Epistle to the Colossians.  Both were in the ancient region called Phrygia.

It is interesting that in the Epistle (its authorship, traditionally attributed to the Apostle Paul, is uncertain), We find this in the King James Version of Colossians 2:18:

“Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels….”

Though the translation of that verse varies, the traditional understanding is that it refers to humans worshipping angels.  It is believed that the center of veneration of the Archangel Michael in the early days of Christianity was at Phrygia, where he was considered more as a healer than as a military patron.

The early angel veneration in Phrygia is interesting in regard to today’s icon type, known as “The Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Khonai” — ЧУДО АРХИСТРАТИГА МИХАИЛА В ХОНЕХ — Chudo Arkhistratiga Mikhaila v Khonekh — or in Greek Το εν Χώναις Θαύμα του Αρχάγγελου Μιχαήλ — To en Khonais Thauma tou Arkhangelou Mikhail — literally “The In Khonae Wonder of the Archangel Michael.”  It is also sometimes called “The Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Colossae.”  Here is a 12th century Byzantine example from the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Sinai:

According to tradition, the Evangelist John the Theologian supposedly visited the region in the beginning days of Christianity, and foretold that a miraculous spring would burst forth from the ground there, in honor of the Archangel Michael.  And later, that happened.

It is said that in the 4th century, when Christianity had only begun its takeover of the Roman Empire, a certain man of the city of Laodicaea had a daughter who was mute — who could not speak.  A man — some say the Archangel Michael — is said to have appeared to him in a dream, telling him his daughter would speak if she drank from the spring.  She did so and was no longer mute.

In gratitude the father and all the family were baptized, and in addition he had a church dedicated to Michael built at the healing spring.

Some 90 years later, a ten-year old Christian boy named Arkhippos (Άρχιππος) left home for the church at the spring, and became its sexton.  He lived a rigorous and self-mortifying life, living on wild plants, refusing to eat bread, and never bathing (obviously he did not agree with the saying that cleanliness is next to godliness).  He slept on sharp stones and thorny plants.

Now it happened supposedly, that as the years passed and Arkhippos grew up, the healing spring had become so locally famous, and the harsh piety of Arkhippos along with it, that the “pagans” in the region became jealous. They attacked Arkhippos and tried to ruin the spring, but a flame sprang up from it and frightened them off.  But they did not give up.

They next decided to get rid of the spring and Arkhippos at the same time.  Some distance to the left of the church (and the spring was on the left side of it too) there was a stream called the Khryssos.  The pagans diverted it so that it would flow down and flood the healing spring and the church.  But instead of flowing down into the spring on the left, the river instead flowed around the right side of the church, doing no harm.

Now the church and its spring happened to be on a piece of land that was bordered at some distance by two rivers — the Lykokastros and the Kouphos, one river on each side, making it like an island between them.  The pagans determined to collect the waters of the two rivers above the church, and then to open the dike so that the joined waters of the two rivers would rush down and wipe out the spring, the church, and Arkhippos.  They put a lot of labor into digging and delving, preparing their waterworks for the great flood.  Then they let the waters in their dam rise for ten days, and at midnight they released them.

They stood shouting excitedly as the flood of water rushed down on the church.  But Arkhippos heard all the shouting and the rushing of the water, and prayed these words from Psalm 93:3-5 (KJV numbering):

“The rivers have lifted up, O Lord, the rivers have lifted up their voices, at the voices of many waters: the billows of the sea are wonderful: the Lord is wonderful in high places. Your testimonies are made very sure: holiness becomes your house, O Lord, for ever.

Arkhippos, sheltering in the church, suddenly heard the voice of the Archangel Michael calling him by name and telling him to come outside the church to see what was about to happen.  Going out, he saw a pillar of flame from sky to earth.  There stood the Archangel Michael, who made the sign of the cross on a large rock, then struck it with his lance.  The rock split apart, opening a large fissure in the earth into which the floodwaters ran, without doing any harm to the church or its spring.

So that is the story.  Honaz/Khonae is in a region of thermal springs and calcium-laden pools, where the bedrock is calcium carbonate, which water dissolves over time, and opens underground caverns.  The present streams in the area are the Çürüksu (the former Lykos), which includes Karaçay and Honaz Creeks.  Its waters are so laden with calcium carbonate that its name means “rotten water” in Turkish.  So it seems likely that this tale is at least in part an “origin story” explaining the hydrological topography of the area through the religious equivalent of folklore.  And it is also an attempted explanation of the etymology of the place name, because a Χωνιών — Khonion,  in Greek, is a funnel, and the waters were supposedly funneled by Michael into the hole.

Here is a Russian icon pattern for the “Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Khonae.”  It is a bit more detailed than one usually find in icons of this subject:

In the rocky hills at upper left and right, we see the pagans at work diverting the two rivers, one river on each side.  Down below, we see Arkhippos (Arkhipp in Slavic form) standing in front of his church, watching the Archangel Michael with his lance at left.  Michael is directing the floodwaters into a hole down which they swirl like water down a bathroom sink drain.  The artist has added a colorful and lively touch by showing one of the pagans swept headfirst down the flood and toward the hole.

If you look closely at the upper part of the church, you will see that this example has placed a small image of the Archangel Michael upon it, to show to whom it was dedicated.

The only inscriptions on this pattern identify the two main figures, МИХАИЛЪ — Mikhail/Michael at left, and at right Пр АРХИПП — Pr[epodobnuiy] Arkhipp, “Venerable Arkhippos.”

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