Phocas of Sinope

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(4th century(?),

martyr. This saint is mentioned in the Martyrology of Jerome and occurs in the OE Martyrology. He was a famous martyr (but not bishop) of Sinope, on the Black Sea, and was a gardener. His praises were sung by St Asterius (c.400); his relics were claimed by Vienne as well as by Antioch. It seems probable that hagiographers have made one saint into three: Phocas of Antioch, Phocas the bishop of Sinope, and Phocas the gardener. Only the last seems authentic. According to the Legend Phocas was both a hermit and a skilful gardener, who used his produce to feed the visitors and pilgrims in his guest-house; any residue went to the poor. In a time of persecution Phocas was said to have been impeached as a Christian, condemned without trial, and soldiers were sent to kill him. Ignorant of his identity, they stayed the night at his guest-house and asked him where Phocas was. He answered that he knew the man they wanted and would help them in their search the next day. During the night Phocas dug a grave for himself and prepared for death. In the morning he divulged his identity; the soldiers, after recovering from their surprise and receiving his assurance that he regarded martyrdom as the greatest gain, killed him and buried him in the grave he had prepared. According to Asterius, his church drew pilgrims from far and wide and his relics were much sought after. Phocas became the patron of sailors in the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. This patronage may be connected with the resemblance of his name to the Greek word for a seal (phoce). Feast: on various dates, now 5 March.

C.M.H., pp. 374–5; B.L.S., ix. 204–5: G. Herzfeld, An Old English Martyrology (E.E.T.S., 1900).

Subjects: Christianity.

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