Saints' feast days fully engaged the Byzantine laity and every city and village participated in the celebration. Annual ceremonies were held at the cult centres of major saints, which attracted pilgrims as well as merchants to fairs held in conjunction with the feast. Numerous descriptions of church festivals survive from the Byzantine period. In Nicaea, for example, the feast of St Tryphon, which tookplace on 1 February, was associated with the miraculous blossoming of a lily out of season. A mid- thirteenth-century encomium to the saint, written by Theodore Laskaris, describes the crowds assembled for the celebration:
When the miracle takes place, there is a universal festival - of infants, children, adolescents, men, old men, elders, the aged, women, laymen, soldiers, officials, priests and monks - every kind and age of people sees it and jumps with joy. For what happens does not happen in a corner or some shadowy place, but in the church of God.23
At the annual festival of St Demetrios in Thessalonike, visitors came to venerate the saint, but also to participate in the great week-long fair.
Processions of important icons also involved the Byzantine populace. The weekly litany of the Hodegetria icon in Constantinople, sustained by a confraternity whose members carried the heavy icon, attracted large crowds of supplicants and onlookers. The icon, attributed with healing powers, was carried through Constantinople on Tuesdays, when it visited several churches and was then returned to the Hodegon monastery. According to the Russian pilgrim Alexander the Clerk, who travelled to Constantinople in 1394-95 and witnessed the weekly procession of the icon, 'whoever comes with faith receives health'.24 Eustathios ofThessalonike writes that a similar procession involving an icon of the Virgin Hodegetria took place in his city.25 Far from the capital in the area of Thebes, members of a lay confraternity transported another icon, the Virgin Naupaktissa, from church to church. The Constantinopolitan procession is represented in a thirteenth-century painting in the narthex of the Blakhernai church near Arta, labelled 'Feast of the All Holy Theotokos the Hodegetria in Constantinople'. In addition to representing the procession of the icon, the scene includes a large number of vendors, suggesting that the display of the icon was as much a commercial event as a sacred one.
23 C. Foss, Nicaea: aByzantine capital and its praises (Brookline, MA: Hellenic College Press, 1996), 105-7.
24 G. Majeska, Russian travelers to Constantinople in the fourteenth andfifteenth centuries [DOS 19] (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1984), 160.
25 Eustathios of Thessalonike, The capture of Thessaloniki, trans. John R. Melville Jones (Canberra: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1988), 142.3-21.
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