LEGENDS OF MENAS

Today we will look at a 17th century Cretan icon:

Here is the title inscription:

It reads:
Ὁ ἉΓΙΟC ΜΗΝΑC
HO HAGIOS MENAS
[The] HOLY MENAS

In hagiography he is called Menas of Egypt, and as we see from his armor, lance and shield, he is one of the warrior saints.

If we look at the base of the icon, we see the signature of the painter:


It reads:

ΧΕΙΡ ΕΜΜΑΝΟΥΗΛ ΤΟΥ ΛΑΜΠΑΡΔΟΥ
KHEIR EMMANOUEL TOU LAMPARDOU
“[The] Hand of Emmanuel of Lampardos”

Notice the unusual ligature of the α and Ρ (a and R).

This Emmanuel of Lampardos (more commonly known as Emmanuel Lambardos), was a painter in Heraklion/Iraklion, on Crete, active between 1593-1647.  Within the last few decades scholars have determined that there were actually two icon painters by the same name, an Emmanuel Lambardos the Elder and an Emmanuel Lambardos the Younger, the latter thought to be the son of Piero Lambardos and the nephew of the former, with both elder and younger working in the same studio.  Because their works are so similar, scholars are still trying to determine who painted what.

Let’s look at the scenes from the hagiographic legend of Menas:


This illustrates the tale that a certain man went to pray at a church dedicated to Menas.  There he met another man who offered him lodging for the night.  Realizing that his guest had gold, the host killed him, cut up his body, and put the parts in a basket.  The next day a mysterious stranger in military garb, riding on a horse, appeared (who of course was St. Menas).  The soldier asked the host about his overnight guest, and the host claimed to know nothing.  Menas, however asked him about the basket, and so the whole story was revealed.  Menas then miraculously joined all the parts of the slain man’s body together, and restored him to life.  He gave him back the gold the host and taken, and sent him on his way.  After scolding the host, Menas forgave him, then disappeared.

A man decided to have two silver plates made, one for St. Menas — engraved with his name — and the other for himself and bearing his own name.  When the silversmith had completed the work, the plate intended for Menas turned out to be the more beautiful of the two, so the man decided to keep it for himself.

The same man went on a sea voyage, taking the plate with him, and having his food served to him on it.  When he had finished eating, a servant took the plate and was washing it in the sea, when suddenly it slipped out of his hands and disappeared beneath the waves.  The startled servant lost his grip and also fell into the sea.  The man was so distressed at losing his servant that he prayed to Menas, telling him that if the servant’s body were to be recovered, he would give not only the remaining plate but also the cost of the lost plate to the saint.

When the ship reached land, the man looked to see if the body had washed up on the shore.  But instead, he saw the servant coming out of the sea alive, holding the lost plate.  The servant reported that as soon as he fell into the sea, a handsome man appeared with two others, grasping the man and traveling with him until he arrived at the shore.

A certain woman was on her way to pray at the shrine of Menas when she was attacked by a man who wanted to rape her.  It happened that when he got off his horse to do the deed, he tied the horse to his right foot.  Then when he attempted to rape the woman, the horse became very upset, and dragged the man off, all the way to the shrine of Menas.  Once there, the horse was so violent, and whinnied so loud, that a crowd of people soon gathered.  The man was worried the horse would injure or kill him, so he blurted out his confession of attempted rape before everyone, and immediately the horse became calm.  The repentant rapist then asked the saint to end his suffering and pardon him.

It happened once that a crippled man and a mute woman happened to both be staying in the shrine of Menas.  In the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, Menas appeared to the crippled man, telling him that if he would touch the cloak of the sleeping mute woman, he would be healed.  The crippled man managed to get to the mute woman, and when he grabbed her cloak she awoke, and began loudly blaming him.  Fearing the woman’s noisy shouting, the cripple got up and began to run away, when suddenly both of them realized that they had been healed by the saint.

There was a Jewish man who was friends with a Christian, and trusted him so much that when he traveled to foreign lands, he would leave considerable amounts of gold behind with the Christian as safekeeping.  However, once when the Jew had done this, on returning he went to the Christian and asked for his money.  The Christian replied that the Jew was mistaken, that no money had been left with him.  The Jew was so upset by this that he said he wanted Menas to determine the truth.  So both set off for the shrine of Menas.

Now it happened that when they arrived at the shrine, the Christian repeated his claim, swearing that no gold had been left with him.   Having said that, he exited the shrine with the Jew, and both got on their horses.  Suddenly the horse of the Christian began behaving violently, and rearing up, it threw its rider to the ground, where he lost his kerchief, a key, and a gold seal.  He got back on his horse and both continued on their way.

The Jew, however, was groaning and lamenting the loss of his gold.  The Christian suggested that they stop, dismount, and pause to eat some food.  As they were eating, the Christian looked up and saw that his servant from home had come, and was standing there holding the money bag of the Jew in one hand, and the lost key [a signet ring in another version, which accounts for the “gold seal”]  and kerchief in the other.  He was quite shocked, and asked the servant to explain.

The servant replied that a man riding a horse came, and giving the lost key [or signet ring] and kerchief to the Christian’s wife, he told her that she must send the money bag of the Jew to the Christian with great haste, so her husband would not meet with danger.  And so, thinking the Christian had requested this, the wife sent the servant quickly off to him with the Jew’s gold.

The Jew was of course overjoyed, and immediately wanted to return to the shrine of the saint, where he vowed to become a Christian himself through baptism in thanks for the miracle.  As for the lying Christian, he asked to be forgiven, and both returned satisfied to their homes

So those are the legendary miracles of the saint depicted on the Lambardos icon.

The last image is of the martyrdom of Menas:


Menas, by tradition, is said to have been an Egyptian Christian who became a soldier and was martyred under Diocletian after he left the army, then later returned and confessed his faith publicly during the festival games.  He was said to have been tortured, then (as we see in the icon) beheaded in 304 c.e.

Menas is one of those saints whose iconography has changed over time.  In the early centuries of his veneration, he was depicted not as an old man with grey hair and beard, but rather as a young and beardless man in a short tunic, without armor, standing with arms outstretched between two kneeling camels.

The camels relate to the legend of what happened to his body after death.  Though there is some variation in it, the essence is that his decapitated body was placed on a camel, and the camel on which it was traveling stopped at Lake Mariout (Mariotis), and refused to go farther.  This was seen as a divine sign, so the body was buried where the camel stopped, and a chapel was built there that later became a significant pilgrimage site.  You perhaps recognized that the motif of an animal carrying some holy object and stopping at the place where the object is intended to remain is a common tale in stories of saints and icons.  Many pottery ampullae (small clay vessels) with the image of Menas and his camels on them — eagerly purchased by visiting pilgrims — are to be found in various public and private collections.  They were produced at the  popular shrine, presumably as containers for supposedly holy water from the spring there, and some bear as well the inscription ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΜΗΝΑ/EULOGIA TOU AGIOU MENA — “The blessing of the Holy Menas.”

(Photo courtesy of Luisa Ghirimoldi)

Now as sometimes happens with saints, there is more than one St. Menas.  Another is Menas Kallikelados (Menas the Sweet-Sounding) sometimes translated as Menas the Eloquent, said to have been martyred under Maximian.   But as with the multiplied saints Cosmas and Damian, scholars believe this Menas (also said to have been an Egyptian) and the better known Menas were originally one and the same, but became multiplied by their veneration at different places.

 

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