Saint Theodore: The Iconography

In Amasia, Pontus, the natal day Not his birthday but the day he died and was "born again" into Heaven of St. Theodore, a soldier who in the time of the Emperor Maximian was badly beaten for confessing the Christian faith and thrown into prison. There he was comforted when the Lord appeared and encouraged a manly constancy. Then he was tortured on the rack, his flesh was gouged out with nails so that one could see his innards, and finally he was set on fire. St. Gregory of Nyssa has celebrated him with an excellent encomium. – Roman Martyrology for November 9

It is easy to mistake an image of St. Theodore for St. George because of their similar stories and iconography. Both were soldiers who were martyred under Diocletian, and both are typically portrayed vanquishing a dragon. The two saints are paired together in some early icons, which distinguish them only by making George a beardless youth and Theodore a man with a pointy beard.1 In the Byzantine-inspired procession of military saints at Cefalù Cathedral in Sicily, however, neither George and Theodore has a beard.

The dragon story was added to lives of Theodore beginning in the 9th century. In it, the saint is sleeping in a grassy meadow not knowing that a fierce dragon lives nearby. A woman runs up and urges him to flee, but he just makes the sign of the cross and slays the beast with his sword.2

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2017-03-16.

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Atop a pillar in St. Marks Square, Venice. (See description page.)


Cefalù, Cathedral of the Transfiguration, 12th century mosaic (See description page)

DATES

  • Feast day: November 9
  • Died in the 4th century

NAMES

  • Sometimes called Theodore "Strateletes," a word that means "marshal" or "general"

HAGIOGRAPHY

  • Golden Legend #165: html or pdf.
  • Gregory of Nyssa, "A Homily on Theodore the Recruit," in Leemans, 82-91. (The Greek text of this is in the Acta Sanctorum article listed below, pages 27-29.)
  • Acta Sanctorum, November vol. 4, 11-89.

NOTES
1 Weitzmann, Icon, 43, 56.
2 Acta Sanctorum, November vol. 4, 14-15 [in Latin] and 46-48, 50-51 [in Greek].

ALSO SEE