Saints Sergius and Bacchus: The Iconography

In the province of Augusta Euphratesia, the holy martyrs Sergius and Bacchus, Roman nobles, under the Emperor Maximian. Bacchus was beaten repeatedly with crude clubs until his body fell apart and he gave up his spirit in confessing Christ. Sergius was put into shoes fitted with nails. Because he remained fixed in the faith he was then ordered beheaded. Sergiopolis [Resafa, in Syria] is named after the place where he died. Because of splendid miracles it is frequently honored by visits from Christians. – Roman Martyrology for October 7

Saints Sergius and Bacchus were military commanders who enjoyed the favor of the Emperor Maximian (286-305). Envious courtiers ascertained that the two were Christians and reported that fact to the emperor. Maximian was doubtful, but as a test he went with his courtiers to the temple of Jupiter. When Sergius and Bacchus refused to go in, the emperor punished them by parading them through the streets in iron collars and women's clothing. Then he sent them for trial to the governor of Syria, who had been a friend of theirs. The governor ordered that Sergius be beheaded and Bacchus beaten to death with clubs and exposed to the carrion beasts. However, a flock of birds kept those beasts away until Christians could come and inter the body properly.

In their images the two saints are pictured as virtually identical young men in identical military uniforms. The identical uniforms are mentioned in one of the legends, and may also refer to a comment in another one that "they were united in Christian charity, and inseparable…not from natural attraction but from the unity of faith."1 In the west they are dressed as Roman soldiers example, but without any other attributes. In Orthodox icons they hold the hand crosses that denote martyrdom and may be dressed either as soldiers or as noble courtiers. In one case the icon pictures them in the iron collars that Maximian had ordered.

Prepared in 2020 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.

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The four sides of this sarcophagus trace the story of Sergius and Bacchus from their refusal to enter Jupiter's temple to their life in Heaven. (See the description page.)


Ridolfi, The Martyrdom of St. Sergius description page.)

DATES

  • Feast day: October 7

BIOGRAPHY

NOTES

1 Acta Sanctorum, Otober vol. 3, 872, 863.

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