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Theodore of Sykeon

(d. 613)


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St George (c. 228—303) patron saint of England

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(d. 613),

monk and bishop of Anastasiopolis in Galatia. His mother, called Mary, kept an inn at Sykeon with her mother and sister; they were also prostitutes. Theodore's father was a circus artist, whose speciality was acrobatic camel-riding; he seems later to have had nothing to do with his son, whose upbringing was left to his mother. She had him baptized with the name of Theodore (=gift of God), and when he was only six wanted him to enter the service of the emperor at Constantinople, for which she had prepared him a gold belt and expensive clothes. Owing to a dream in which George appeared to her, she abandoned this plan and had him taught his letters by a local teacher. At about this time the inn was transformed by the arrival of one Stephen, a wonderful cook. It became renowned for the quality of its food, which enabled the women to give up prostitution as an additional source of income. Stephen was elderly and devout; he encouraged Theodore to visit churches, receive the sacraments, and practise fasting and abstinence. After recovering from a nearly fatal attack of bubonic plague he developed the habit of visiting and watching in the nearby chapel of St George, who admonished his mother in sleep after she had beaten her son soundly for going to the shrine in the early morning. Throughout his life Theodore propagated the cult of St George. He became a hermit at Arkea, about eight miles away, living in a cave underneath a chapel. There his grandmother used to visit him and bring him fruit and vegetables. He was reputed to have accomplished exorcisms, until he fled to a more complete solitude in the mountains, where he lived in a walled-up cave known only to a deacon in the vicinity. He was eventually rescued in a state of collapse: ill, dirty, and pest-ridden.

He was ordained priest very young (reputedly at the age of only eighteen) and went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he visited the holy places and the hermits of the neighbourhood and where the bishop gave him the monk's habit. His mother meanwhile married a prominent businessman of Ancyra, his aunt and sister became nuns, and his grandmother, when he returned home, settled near him at Mossyna and helped in the treatment of girls believed to be troubled by unclean spirits. At his own request a wooden cage was made in which he passed the time from Christmas to Palm Sunday. He then moved into an iron cage, suspended on the face of the rock in mid-air above his cave; he ordered an iron breastplate to be made for him besides iron rings for his hands and feet and an iron collar and belt. The outfit was completed by an iron staff with a cross on it. His fasts were spectacular, bears and wolves were his friends, he enjoyed powers of healing and clairvoyance, which once included his deep suspicion of a finely wrought silver chalice which turned out to have been made out of a prostitute's chamber-pot. He was also outstanding in his practice of prolonged prayer. Near his hermitage he established a monastery for his followers who also took care of the many visitors who came seeking his counsel and prayer. Eventually a larger church was built. What had started as a hermit's cave had been transformed into a complex of larger buildings with church, monastery, and guest-house.

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Subjects: Christianity.


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