The Great Martyr Demetreus of Thessaloniki (Dimitri Solunsky) was the patron saint of the Greek city of Thessaloniki and died a martyr’s death in circa 306.

No historical evidence survived about the St. Demetreus’ life. The earliest accounts about the saint’s martyrdom date back to the 9th century.

According to these accounts, Demetreus of Thessaloniki was born into a noble family, made a career on the Emperor’s service. He was a Christian and openly professed his faith on the city square in Thessaloniki. When the Emperor Maximian (or Maximian Herculius) found out he was a Chirstian, he ordered that Demetreus be thrown into a dungeon under the termas (public baths). The Lord sent sent an angel to the dungeon who reinforced Demetreus before his martyr’s death and put a wreath on his head. In dungeon, he was visited by a young man Nestor who wished to fight with the gladiator Lyaeos, a man of enormous strength and a favorite of the Emperor. Demetreus blessed the young man and Nestor killed Lyaeos in the contest. The enraged emperor ordered that Nester be executed along with Demetreus who helped his follower to defeat the invincible gladiator through prayer. Nestor was beheaded and St. Demetrius was speared in the side in the dungeon. Fearing the emperor, pious Christians buried the saint in the termas where he had found death. After a while, his tomb began to work wonders and healings. Some of his posthumous miracles are associated with the saint’s defense of Thessaloniki from enemies and disasters, therefore he is venerated as the patron saint of the city.

In Thessaloniki, on the place where the saint is believed to have been imprisoned and buried, not later than in the 5th century AD, the Basilica of St. Demetreus of Thessaloniki was built. Rebuilt many times after devastating fires, it still maintained its original image. The 6th - 7th century mosaics of St. Demetrius, destroyed by fire in 1917, portrayed the saint as a young man with short hair wearing a chiton and a long robe with the tablion. From the 10th century such images of Demetreus appeared in Constantinople and other Byzantine towns. Some iconographic versions show St. Demetrius with a martyr’s wreath on the head.

12th century depictions of St. Demetreus showed him as a warrior in an armor suite, armed with a spear, sword and shield. In some cases Demetreus the warrior was shown with mustaches and a short beard. There are several versions of this iconography: St. Demetreous is portrayed either standing or seated on the throne or on the horseback; in some cases he is shownstamping on the defeated enemy (the monster, tsar Kaloyan). In some iconographic versions his image combines the features of a warrior and a martyr.

In Rus, the Great Martyr Demetreus of Thessaloniki was especially venerated as he was the patron saint of many princes of the Rurik dynasty. In the pre-Mongolian period, in church wall paintings and icons the saint was traditionally depicted in three variants: standing, enthroned or sitting on the horeback. The earliest image of Demetreus of Thessaloniki is the 1040s fresco on the pillar of the Church of St. Sophia in Kiev featuring him as a middle-aged man with small mustaches.

Both iconographic types showing him as a warrior and a martyr have been encountered since the 14th century. With the appearance of the high iconostasis in the late 14th century, the image of St. Demetreus the martyr was included in the Deesis row. The earliest example is represented by a St. Demetreus icon of the late 14th century on the iconostasis at the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.

St. Demetreus of Thessaloniki is commemorated on November 8 (October 26, O.S.).

Zhanna G. Belik,

Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.

Olga E. Savchenko,

research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.


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