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E05347: The Life of *David (dendrite and recluse in Thessalonike, S02012) recounts the story of a wonderworking ascetic who mediated between the city of Thessalonike (south Balkans/Greece) and the emperor Justinian. The text mentions a local monastery of *Theodoros (probably the martyr of Euchaita?, S00480) and *Merkourios (martyr of Caesarea, S01323), and the site of martyrdom of *Theodoulos and Agathopous (martyrs of Thessalonike, S00995). Written in Greek at Thessalonike, in the early 8th c..

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posted on 2018-04-18, 00:00 authored by erizos
Life of David of Thessalonike (BHG 493)

1. Prologue

2-8. David settles at the monastery of *Theodoros (soldier martyr of Euchaita?, S00480) and *Merkourios (soldier martyr of Caesarea?, S01323) by the north walls of Thessalonike. Inspired by reading about the holy figures of the Bible, he decides to dedicate himself to strict asceticism for three years, which he spends on an almond tree by the church.

9. After three years, an angel appears to David and instructs him to get off the tree and settle in a cell as a recluse. He announces this to his disciples and requests that a cell be prepared for him. They report this to the archbishop of the city, Dorotheos.

10. The bishop and his clerics arrive at the monastery and celebrate a Eucharist for the consecration of David’s cell. The holy man dedicates himself to his devotions, and is given grace to drive demons away and heal the sick.

11-12. From within his cell, he exorcises a possessed young man and heals a blind woman.

13. During those times, the Praetorian Prefect and the army of Illyricum resided in Sirmium, and in Thessalonike there was only a vicar. Under the threat of an Avar attack against Sirmium, the Praetorian Prefect writes to the new archbishop of Thessalonike, Aristeides, and requests his mediation with the emperor Justinian, in order that the seat of the Prefecture may be allowed to move to Thessalonike. An assembly is convoked in order to decide who should be sent to the emperor, and the people unanimously decide to send David.

14. The archbishop with his clerics visits David at his cell, and announces to him the people’s decision. The holy man accepts, out of obedience to the will of God, but warns that they will not see him alive again: on his journey back from Constantinople, he will die 26 miles before reaching the city.

15. David exits his cell and everyone is amazed at his Abraham-like appearance. His white hair reaches his hips, and his beard his feet. Accompanied by two of his disciples, Theodoros and Demetrios, he takes the archbishop’s letters and embarks on a boat to Constantinople.

16. David is received with great honours by the empress Theodora, while Justinian is in Proconnesus.

17. The emperor returns and a formal audience is prepared for David, before the Senate. David offers frankincense to the emperor and the senators, holding burning coals in his bare hands. Impressed by his holiness and the prodigy, Justinian accepts his requests and entrusts him with the relevant letters.

18. David sails back to Thessalonike, but, as his ship is approaching the city, he prays and announces to his disciples that he is about to die and wishes to be buried at his monastery. At the moment of his death, the boat miraculously stops moving, and is surrounded by a sweet smell of incense and singing voices.

19. The boat, instead of docking at the port, arrives west of the city, by the site where the martyrs *Theodoulos and Agathopous (S00995) had been drowned in the sea under Caesar Maximian and governor Faustinus. The news is announced to the archbishop who comes to venerate the body. Carried up by monks, David’s body is taken in procession around the walls of the city, and enters through a postern near his monastery. The archbishop has the body buried in a wooden casket.

20. Thus the Prefecture returned to Thessalonike. The monastery keeps the yearly memory of David. After 150 years, a pious abbot of the monastery, Demetrios, attempts to open David’s tomb and remove some relics. However, while the tomb is being opened, the tomb slab breaks into pieces, which is regarded as a deterring sign. Demetrios’ successor and later archbishop of Thessalonike, Sergios, also reveres the saint and regularly celebrates his vigils (παννυχίδες). He receives the saint’s approval to open the tomb, finds the body incorrupt, anoints it with myrrh and removes only some of the saint’s beard and hair. The story of David’s life was orally recounted at his monastery until it was recorded in a summary by the author, 180 years after the events, or later. His purpose was edification, following the example of the author of the Life of *Mary of Egypt, who had also recorded an oral legend.

Summary: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Theodore, soldier and martyr of Amaseia and Euchaita : S00480 Merkourios, soldier and martyr in Caesarea of Cappadocia : S01323 David, dendrite and recluse in Thessalonike, ob. c. 540 : S02012 Theodoulos and Agathopous, martyrs in Thessalonike : S

Saint Name in Source

Θεόδωρος Μερκούριος Δαβίδ Θεόδουλος, Ἀγαθόπους

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Balkans including Greece

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Thessalonike Drizypera Δριζύπερα Drizypera Büyük Karıştıran

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Sermon/homily

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - monastic

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Saint as patron - of a community

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Miracle at martyrdom and death Healing diseases and disabilities Saint aiding or preventing the translation of relics Changing abilities and properties of the body Miraculous sound, smell, light Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Ecclesiastics - abbots Foreigners (including Barbarians) Monarchs and their family Officials

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Bodily relic - nails, hair and bodily products


The text is composed in a homiletic style, addressing a local audience in Thessalonike. The concluding paragraph of the text places its composition at least 180 years after David’s death, i.e. in the early to mid 8th century, if we take the text’s historical claims as accurate. It is preserved in 9 manuscripts on which see:


The historicity of David as a figure is suggested by the fact that he is also mentioned by John Moschus (Spiritual Meadow 69), who reports having met a monk in Alexandria, who had lived in Thessalonike while David was still alive. Moschus reports that David was of Mesopotamian origin, which is not stated in our text. The Life reports that he lived 'at the monastery of the holy martyrs Theodoros and Merkourios, known as that of the Hood-wearers, in the northern part of the city by the wall where there is the postern of Aproita/Aproitai' (ἐν τῇ μονῇ τῶν ἁγίων μαρτύρων Θεοδώρου καὶ Μερκουρίου ἐπιλεγομένῃ Κουκουλλεώτων ἐν τῷ ἀρκτικῷ μέρει τῆς πόλεως πλησίον τοῦ τείχους ἐν ᾧ ἐστι τὸ παραπόρτιον τῶν Ἀπροΐτων). The same monastery, is called μονὴ τῶν Ἀπροΐτων in the concluding paragraph. After three years as a dendrite on an almond tree by his monastery (his dendritism is not mentioned by Moschus), David becomes a recluse in a cell. Moschus reports that his cell lay about three miles outside the city walls, whilst the Life is less clear about its location. It is unclear whether the saint’s cell was within his intramural monastery or outside the city. David is said to have died after meeting Justinian and Theodora, which dates the event between Justinian’s accession in 527 and his wife’s death in 548. This chronology fits with some other references in the text. Archbishop Dorotheus, who is said to have blessed David’s cell, can be identified as the bishop who clashed with Pope Hormisdas in the late 510s. His successor, Aristides, is probably a presbyter mentioned in the context of the same conflict (correspondence in the Collectio Avellana). The main episode of the narrative, that is the saint’s intercession with the emperor concerning the relocation of the Praetorian Prefecture of Illyricum from the north Balkans to Thessalonike, seems to preserve the memory two different 6th century contexts. The prefecture’s move to the north may be referring to the foundation of Justiniana Prima rather than Sirmium. The fact that the story involves archbishop Aristides would fit with the context of the 530s, when Justiniana Prima was founded. Sirmium was re-conquered from the Gepids much later, in 567. The text’s reference to the Avar attack against Sirmium, however, echoes historical events of 582. A move of the Praetorian Prefecture to the north Balkans is also echoed in the hagiography of *Demetrius of Thessalonike (E01344). The connection of the saint and the church with local political life recalls the 7th century Miracles of Saint Demetrios (E###), and may echo the attitudes of the politically active archbishopric of the city.


Text: Deledemos, I., in Metropolitan Panteleemon, Ἡ ἐπανακομιδὴ τῶν ἱερῶν λειψάνων τοῦ ὁσίου Δαυίδ εἰς τὴν Θεσσαλονίκην (Thessalonike, 1979), 24-36. Rose, V., Leben des heiligen David von Thessalonike (Berlin, 1887). Further reading: Skedros, J., Saint Demetrios of Thessaloniki: Civic Patron and Divine Protector, 4th-7th centuries CE (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1999).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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