Saint Theodore of Amasea

Sep 08, 2021 / Written by: Tonia Long

Feast November 9

Martyr, Patron Saint of Crusaders, Venice - Early fourth century

The earliest source for any information about St. Theodore comes from Gregory of Nyssa who preached in honor of St. Theodore in his sanctuary in the late fourth century.

Mosaic of St Theodore

Gregory proclaimed that St. Theodore could influence the lives of his hearers and specifically mentioned that he could intervene in battles. Thereafter adopted by Crusaders as their patron, this became a particularly important attribute of St. Theodore.

St. Theodore of Amasea was a military recruit serving in the Roman army in the early fourth century at Amasea, which is the modern Amasya in Northern Turkey, about 30 miles south of the Black Sea coast.

When still quite young he refused to join his fellow soldiers in pagan rites of worship and he was arrested; but then set free after a warning. However, he again protested paganism in a more dramatic way by setting fire to the temple of Cybele (the local mother-goddess) at Amasea.

He was then condemned to death and, after undergoing brutal tortures, was executed by being thrown into a furnace.

Church of San Salvador, in Venice.
Church of San Salvador, in Venice. The chapel on the right of the choir is dedicated to San Teodoro, the first patron of Venice. On the altar, the urn containing the saint's body was brought in 1257 by Jacopo Dauro Messembria of the Church in Asia Minor to Constantinople; his brother Marco, ten years later led him to Venice, and donated to the church of San Salvador.

His remains were said to have been obtained by a woman from Eusebia and interred where he had been born, which is about 30 miles from Amasea. A shrine was erected there, which became an important place of pilgrimage.

St. Theodore the dragon-slayer

Between the eighth and tenth centuries, later additions to the saint’s story told of a dragon who was terrorizing the district round Amasea. St. Theodore is said to have been able to vanquish said rebel dragon with the aid of a cross. Amasea was also liable to attacks by marauding barbarians, against whom the saint was said to have protected his people. His sanctuary continued to be visited until around 1100, although the area was by then occupied by the Arabs.

St Theodore slaying a dragon
St. Theodore of Amasea

Images of a horseman with spear overcoming evil, usually represented by a dragon, were widespread throughout the Christian period.

Representations of St. Theodore as such a dragon-slayer are dated to as early as the seventh century. The oldest depiction of Theodore killing a dragon is at Aghtamar, dated c. 920 A.D. Theodore is reported as having destroyed a dragon near Euchaita in a legend from the late ninth century.

The earliest image of St. Theodore as a horseman is from Vinica, North Macedonia and dates to the sixth or seventh century. Here, he is not slaying a dragon, but holding a draco (Latin for dragon or serpent) standard, which was a military standard of the Roman cavalry.

In both mosaics and icons, he is most often shown in military dress from the 6th century, but sometimes in civilian or court dress. When on horseback, he is always in military dress, possibly spearing a dragon, and often with St. George by his side. Both he and St. Theodore Stratelates are shown with thick black hair and pointed beards (usually one point for Theodore Tiron and two points for Stratelates).


Engraving of St Theodore
Saint Theodore. Engraving by Rudolf Stang after Andreas Johann Jacob Müller.

St. Theodore’s following spread widely in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The first church dedicated to him in Constantinople was built in 452 A.D., and eventually he had fifteen churches in that city.

He was famous in Syria, Palestine and Asia Minor. Many churches of the Eastern Orthodox Church are dedicated to him.

In Italy he was shown in a mosaic in the apse of the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Rome (dated about 530), and by the next century, he had his own church there at the foot of the Palatine, circular in shape. Many faithful people brought their sick children to this church, as pagans would have to an asclepeion, or healing-temple.

The Christians were greatly rewarded for their faith in God. This church of San Teodoro was made a collegiate church by Pope Felix IV and made available to the orthodox church in Rome by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

St. Theodore was the first patron of Venice. The chapel of the Doge was dedicated to him until, in the ninth century, Venice wished to free itself from the influence of Byzantium, and he was replaced by St. Mark.

He was not popular in northern Europe beyond Italy. However Chartres Cathedral, in France, has a stained glass window with a series of 38 panels celebrating St. Theodore, which date from the thirteenth century.

Church of Saint Theodore of Amasea, Sovolyano.
Church of Saint Theodore of Amasea, Sovolyano.

Header Image: Detail of an engraving of Theodore of Amasea slaying a dragon, located on a building in the Campiello dell'Anconeta, Cannaregio, Venice.