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E00272: Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Ecclesiastical History, recounts the life and miracles of *Narkissos (bishop of Jerusalem, S00148). Although not a martyr, he is remembered as a miracle worker and ascetic. Written in Greek in Palestine, 311/325.

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posted on 2015-02-03, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 6.9.1-3

(1.) πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἄλλα παράδοξα οἱ τῆς παροικίας πολῖται ὡς ἐκ παραδόσεως τῶν κατὰ διαδοχὴν ἀδελφῶν τοῦ Ναρκίσσου μνημονεύουσιν, ἐν οἷς καὶ τοιόνδε τι θαῦμα δι’ αὐτοῦ γεγονὸς ἱστοροῦσιν. (2.) κατὰ τὴν μεγάλην ποτὲ τοῦ πάσχα διανυκτέρευσιν τοὔλαιόν φασιν τοῖς διακόνοις ἐπιλιπεῖν· ἐφ’ ᾧ τὸ πᾶν πλῆθος δεινῆς ἀθυμίας διαλαβούσης, τὸν Νάρκισσον τοῖς τὰ φῶτα παρασκευάζουσιν ἐπιτάξαι ὕδωρ ἀνιμήσαντας ὡς αὐτὸν κομιεῖσθαι. (3.) τούτου δὲ ἅμα λόγῳ πραχθέντος, ἐπευξάμενον τῷ ὕδατι, ἐγχέαι κατὰ τῶν λύχνων πίστει τῇ εἰς τὸν κύριον γνησίᾳ παρακελεύσασθαι· ποιησάντων δὲ καὶ τοῦτο, παρὰ πάντα λόγον δυνάμει παραδόξῳ καὶ θείᾳ μεταβαλεῖν ἐξ ὕδατος εἰς ἐλαίου ποιότητα τὴν φύσιν, παρά τε πλείστοις τῶν αὐτόθι ἀδελφῶν ἐπὶ μήκιστον ἐξ ἐκείνου καὶ εἰς ἡμᾶς βραχύ τι δεῖγμα τοῦ τότε θαύματος φυλαχθῆναι.

'(1.) The members of that community keep the memory of several other extraordinary things about Narkissos, as handed down by the brethren in succession. Among these, they relate that the following miracle was performed by him. (2.) Once, at the great all-night vigil of Easter, the deacons ran out of oil. The entire congregation was greatly dismayed by that, and Narkissos ordered those preparing the lights to draw water and bring it to him. (3.) That was said no sooner than done, and he prayed over the water and, with unfeigned faith in the Lord, he ordered them to pour it down into the lamps. And, when they did so, against all reason and by extraordinary and divine power, it changed its nature from water into the quality of oil. And, for a very long time down to our own days, many of the local brethren have kept some of it, as a small sample of that miracle.'

Summary: 6.9.4-6.11.1-3
Narkissos is at some point falsely accused by three men who take oaths over their claims. Although none of the faithful believes the accusations, Narkissos steps down and retires to live as a recluse in the wilderness. While he is away, his accusers suffer exactly those punishments they mentioned in their oaths: one perishes in fire; the second dies after dreadful disease; the third confesses publicly the plot, and, after incessant weeping, his eyes are destroyed. In the absence of Narkissos, a new bishop, Diōn, is appointed in Jerusalem, and soon he is succeeded by Germaniōn and Gordios. During the latter’s episcopate, Narkissos returns from the wilderness and is reinstated as bishop. In his later years, unable to perform his ministry due to his old age, he admits *Alexander (S00149) as his assistant bishop. He dies over 116 years old.

Text: Schwartz et al. 1999. Translation and summary: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Narkissos, bishop of Jerusalem (ob. c. 216) : S00148

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Caesarea Maritima

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Caesarea Maritima Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Major author/Major anonymous work

Eusebius of Caesarea

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Power over objects Punishing miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Other lay individuals/ people


Eusebius lived in Caesarea Maritima in Palestine between c. AD 260 and 340. He was a pupil and friend of the martyred Christian intellectual *Pamphilos (S00140). Under Constantine, he emerged as one of the most influential Christian figures of the Roman Empire, and was ordained bishop of Caesarea. Written between 311 and 325, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History is the first literary work to employ the methodology and objectives of classical historiography – which, since Herodotus and Thucydides, had traditionally focused on military and political events – in a novel field, the history of the Christian community. The first paragraphs of the work outline its chronological framework and thematic range: it is a narrative of events in the life of the Christian community from the times of Christ and the Apostles to the times of Eusebius (c. 260-340); it records the leaders of the most important communities (i.e. successions of bishops in Alexandria, Antioch, Rome and Jerusalem); it records the most notable exponents of Christian doctrine and their works, and also the main heresies and their proponents; it finally records persecutions and people that suffered and were martyred during them. The Ecclesiastical History is mostly a synthesis of quotations and summaries from other sources, for which Eusebius often gives concrete references. Thus his work preserves excerpts from early Christian texts which do not survive in their full form. Eusebius’ source material consists mostly of Greek texts, originating from Christian communities in Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. These areas constitute the main geographical range of his narrative, while his information about Christianity in the European provinces of the Roman Empire (except Rome) and North Africa is very limited. The text survives in several Greek manuscripts, in a Latin translation by Rufinus, and in Syriac and Armenian translations.


The story of Narkissos of Jerusalem preserved by Eusebius is of major interest as an early example of preserving the memory of bishops as holy men. One of the main themes discussed by Eusebius in the Ecclesiastical History is the successions of bishops at the main catholic communities of the Roman world, which he follows systematically for Jerusalem, Caesarea Maritima, Alexandria, Antioch and Rome, and less systematically for Ephesus, Corinth and other cities. His focus on episcopal successions parallels his interest in martyrdoms, which Eusebius understood as the two axes of the existence and development of the Church through history. Eusebius recognises the working of God through the life and acts of bishops no less than through the feats of martyrs. The figure of Narkissos is of great interest, because he is not known to have been martyred. Narkissos is remembered as a holy man, performing miracles and spending a period in ascetic retirement, but not as a martyr. He thus forms an exception among the saints of the period, who were by a great majority martyrs. As a figure, he is akin to a type of sanctity typical of later periods rather than of the age of persecutions, but one could also compare his profile to that of John the Evangelist, as a holy man living an extremely long life replete of miracles, leadership and asceticism. Special devotion to the memory of holy bishops is attested at both Jerusalem and Rome in the early 4th century (see E00266, E00273) according to Eusebius, and one may plausibly assume that they were indeed early centres of the development of the cult of this particular category of saints. Stories like that of Narkissos, however, are not common in the Ecclesiastical History and it is unknown whether they evolved into more than oral legends – Eusebius seems to have obtained this story through oral transmission. The earliest extensive biography of a holy bishop is probably the 3rd or 4th century Life of Polycarp of Smyrna, which describes the life and miracles of *Polycarp, omitting his martyrdom. The themes known from Eusebius’ passages about holy bishops (*Narkissos and *Alexander of Jerusalem, and *Fabianus of Rome) feature centrally in the narrative of the Life of Polycarp, setting a model for this particular hagiographical category (E00453).


Edition: Schwartz, E., Mommsen, T., and Winkelmann, F., Eusebius Werke II: Die Kirchengeschichte. 3 vols. (Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte NF 6/1-3; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1999). Translations: Lake, K., Oulton, J.E.L., and Lawlor, H.J., Eusebius of Caesarea: The Ecclesiastical History. 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library; London and Cambridge, MA: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1926). Williamson, G.A., and Louth, A., Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (London: Penguin, 1989). Further reading: Chesnut, G. The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius. Atlanta: Mercer University, 1986. Irshai, O., “Narcissus of Jerusalem and His Role in the Enhancement of the Apostolic Image of the Church of Jerusalem: The Church of Aelia between Marcus and Narcissus (ca. 135–190 C.E.),” in: F. Blanchetière and M.D. Herr (eds.), Aux origines juives du christianisme (Jerusalem: Centre de Recherche Française de Jérusalem, 1993), 111-131.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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