St Margaret of Antioch

Written by Мая Петрова-Танева
St Margaret of Antioch St Margaret of Antioch

A legendary, early Christian martyr who was killed in the persecution in the Antioch town of Asia Minor, the region of Pisidia, extremely popular among both Catholics and Orthodox.


According to the earliest version of her life, the so-called Passio a Theotimo, St Marina was the daughter of a pagan priest. Under the influence of her wet-nurse, she adopted Christianity early. Because of her refusal to marry Eparch Olybrius, Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East and to renounce her faith, she was subsequently subjected to a series of tortures and finally beheaded. Her most famous feat was her victory in prison over various devilish powers – she was swallowed by a dragon from which she succeeded in escaping alive, thanks to the cross she carried that irritated its womb. She also made Beelzebub demon to tell her in detail about the origin of the evil powers and the hellish deeds with which he corrupted the people.

St Marina’s life is traditionally associated with the reign of Emperor Diocletian (AD 284–305), although this is not explicitly stated in the preserved texts. There is no historical record of the martyr. There is also no information about the origin of her cult. It is initially thought to have been a local cult born in Central Anatolia, around Antioch of Pisidia mentioned in the Martyrdom (Kälviäinen 2018). The first certain evidence of her worship dates back to the end of the 8th century. Most researchers believe that there had been no real personality behind the image of the saint. Hermann Usener viewed the legend of St Marina as one of the Christian transformations of the Aphrodite myth and a variation of the story of St Pelagia/Margaret (Usener 1879: xx – xxi; cf. also Delehaye 1907: 197–207). Juliana Dresvina found in the story about her a connection with fairy tales (Dresvina 2009), while Valeria Fal considered the saint to be hypostasis of the Great Mother Goddess, whose image was influenced by characteristics of other pagan deities (Фол 1996). The confession of the Demon, on the other hand, shows parallels to the motifs of ancient mythology and demonology, as well as to some apocryphal texts, most notably the Testament of King Solomon and the Questions of Bartholomew the Apostle (Boulhol 1994; Dresvina 2012).

In the West, the saint is popularly known by a different name, Margaret, but in some Latin transcripts of her Martyrdom the Greek form of her name, Marina (Dresvina 2012: 109) is preserved. In the earliest western martyrologies and calendars, Marina of Antioch and Margaret of Antioch are presented simultaneously. This is also the case in the famous Old Slavic Prayer Against the Devil, authored probably by St Methodius during his stay in Elvangel or Reichenau, where Марина and Маргарѣта are mentioned one after the other (Конзал 2002: 110). Indicative of the merging of the two cults is an image of the saint (ca 1169) in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, with a bilingual inscription – in Latin Sca Margarita, and in Greek, ἁγὶα Μαρίνα (Blacker, Burgess, Ogden 2013: 162).

In Byzantium and the Slavic world, St Marina’s feast day is celebrated on July 17 (see Сергий 2: 216; Христова-Шомова 2012: 805–806; in the contemporary Russian church calendar, on July 30). In the Constantinople Synaxarion, sinaxar reading was provided for that date, and the churches of St Mina and Our Lady of the Sea, as well as the Monastery of Christ Pantepoptes (Christ the all-seeing), where the head of the saint was kept, are mentioned as cult-related sites in the Byzantine capital city (Delehaye 1902: 825; Сергий 3: 275).

The Byzantine manuscripts have recorded numerous variants of the Martyrdom of St Marina (BHG 1165–1168f). The sequence of their occurrence and the interrelationships between them are controversial and are under investigation (Vinogradov 2016; Kälviäinen 2018; Kälviäinen 2019). Usually the earliest is considered to be the extensive version, composed according to the text of Theotimus, an eyewitness to the suffering of the saint (BHG 1165–1166, publ. Usener 1886: 15–47). It is believed that it appeared in Greek no later than the 7th century. In 815–820, the future Patriarch Methodius of Constantinople (843–847) made a transcript of this text and supplied it with explanatory scholia (Usener 1886: 48–53). In the following centuries, the Martyrdom of Teotimus had been repeatedly revised and freed of dogmatically controversial elements (Kälviäinen 2018; Kälviäinen 2019). In manuscripts dating from the second quarter of the 9th and 16th centuries, another shorter text (BHG 1167) had circulated, which according to A. Vinogradov might have been the primary one (Vinogradov 2016: 8). In the 10-volume Menalogion of Metaphrastes, widely distributed in Byzantium after the 10th century, often included new, stylistically enhanced and rhetorically enriched hagiographical text about St Marina (BHG 1168), which was not, however, among the works of Simeon Metaphrast. Orations about the Antioch martyr were also written by Gregory of Cyprus (BHG 1169), Theodore Metochites (BHG 1169b) and Neophyte Monk (BHG 1169d).

The South Slavic audience is only aware of some of these texts (BHBS 584–585; Петрова 2008). Already in the Old Bulgarian epoch, a wide and a short version of the Martyrdon of Theotimus were translated, both characterized by ancient grammatical and lexical forms. In the Cyrilic manuscripts in the Balkans, the voluminous version is preserved in a single transcript in the famous Bdin Miscellany, MS Ghent University Library 408 that had been compiled in 1360 for Queen Anne of Vidin, but had survived in a transcript from the early 15th century (BHBS: 584, No 1; publ. Bdinski Zbornik 1973: 107–129; Bdinski Zbornik 1972: 77–106v; digital photographs are available on the Ghent Library website). Obviously, this text, abounding in wonderful, supernatural and apocryphal elements, had gradually marginalized and discontinued its appearance in South Slavic medieval literature. However, it appeared in a number of Russian, mostly reading-menaia miscellanies from the 15th to 16th centuries (Творогов 2008: 80), where it had undergone both linguistic and substantive changes. Of particular interest is the fate of the episode with the interrogation of the demon (interrogatio demonis), which had clearly annoyed the copyists with its ‘secret’, non-canonical confessions about the world of demons. For this reason, in some East Slavic copies, this part of the narrative has been significantly reduced (eg in manuscript F19-86 of the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in Vilnius, second quarter of the 16th century, f. 369–387v, the confession of the demon is omitted; in a manuscript from the collection of the Volotsky Uspensky Yosifov Monastery, f. 113, 200/598/, f. 93–109, part of it is marked with red crosses, and in the field the scribe advises future copists to skip this place: ѿселѣ престꙋпи до кр(с)та). A text with the same origin as the one in the Bdin Miscellany is published in the Great Reading Menaion of Macarius, Metropolitan of Moscow, but according to A. I. Yatsimirskiy the translation is different (Яцимирский 1909: 131).

In South Slavic reading menaia, containing early texts and dating back to the production of the Preslav Literary Centre, as well as in Bulgarian and Serbian miscellanies of a mixed content from the 14th to 16th centuries, another archaic translation of the Martyrdom of St Marina is preserved. A Glagolitic fragment of it has survived in Croatian manuscript from the end of the 13th century or the very beginning of the 14th century (Petrović, Mihaljević 2013: 193-199, publ. 209-210). The Greek prototype of this version has not yet been specified. From the 14th century onwards, two new translations, probably made in Tarnovo, became popular, the so-called Metaphrastic Martyrdom and the Oration of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory of Cyprus (1283–1289). O. Tvorogov did not record their presence in Russian hagiographic compositions until the 15th century (Петрова 2008; BHBS: 584–585; Петрова, Малчев, Рангочев ESS; Творогов 2008: 80).

The Slavic translation of the Office for St Marina along with the Theophanes canon is usually associated with the activities of the disciples of Cyril and Methodius in Bulgaria, from where it penetrated in Russia (Петрова, Малчев, Рангочев, Encyclopaedia Slavica Sanctorum:

St Marina is one of the most revered saints in Eastern Orthodoxy. In folklore culture, the martyr is endowed with special power over demons and power to stop their harmful influence. In the Balkans, she is known by the nickname ‘Fiery’ because her feast day on July 17 in the church calendar traditionally is thought of as one of the hottest days of the year. She is revered as a guardian from snakes and a healer.

Her images on icons and murals are widespread in the Slavic-Byzantine world. Churches, settlements, and people (both women and men) are named after her.


  • Конзал 2002: : Конзал, В. Старославянская молитва против дьявола. Москва, 2002.
  • Коцева 2005: Коцева, Е. Св. Марина Лечителката, 27 юли. – В: Между ангели и демони. Международна научна конференция, проведена в Лесидрен от 30 август до 1 септември 2001 г. София, 2005, 216–224.
  • Петрова 2008: Петрова, М. За култа и агиографската традиция на св. Марина. – В: Християнска агиология и народния вярвания. Сборник в чест на ст. н. с. Елена Коцева. София, 2008, 134–154.
  • Петрова, Малчев, Рангочев ESS: Петрова-Танева, М., Р. Малчев, К. Рангочев. Св. Марина. – В: Encyclopaedia slavica sanctorum. [05.10.2018].
  • Петрова, под печат: Петрова-Таневa, M. За св. Марина, властта над демоните и „апокрифния“ характер на нейното Мъчение. – В: Сборник в чест на Искра Христова-Шомова. София, 2019.
  • Сергий 1–3: Сергий, архиеп. Полный месяцеслов Востока. 1–3. М., 1997 (репр. по 2 изд. Владимир, 1901).
  • Творогов 2008: Творогов, О. В. Переводные жития в русской книжности XI–XV веков. Каталог. Москва–Санкт Петербург, 2008.
  • Фол 1996: Фол, В. Забравената светица. София, 1996.
  • Христова-Шомова 2012: Христова-Шомова, И. Служебният Апостол в славянската ръкописна традиция. 2. Изследване на синаксарите (Християнските празници в славянските апостоли). София, 2012, 805–806.
  • Яцимирский 1909: Яцимирский, А. И. К истории апокрифов и легенд в южнославянской письменности. VII: Сказания о святых женах. – Известия отделения русского языка и словесности, 14, 1909, 3, 126–133.
  • Atanassova 2013: Atanassova, D. Narrating Exorcism and Performing prayers (Aspects of Performativity of Some Early Martyria Spread in South Slavic Milieu). – В: Светци и свети места на Балканите. Материали от международната конференция, София, 14‒16 юни 2012. 1. Филология. Археография. Текстология. София, 2013, 362–375 (Старобългарска литература 47).
  • Bdinski Zbornik 1972: Bdinski Zbornik. Ghent Slavonic Ms 408, A. D. 1360. Facsimile edition. Ed. by I. Dujčev. London, 1972.
  • Bdinski Zbornik 1973: Bdinski Zbornik. An Old-Slavonic Menologium of Women Saints (Ghent University Library Ms. 408, A.D. 1360). Ed. J. L. Scharpé and F. Vyncke. Bruges, 1973.
  • BHBS: Иванова, Кл. Bibliotheca Hagiographica Balcano-Slavica. София, 2008.
  • BHG: Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca. 2. Ed. F. Halkin. Bruxelles, 1957.
  • Blacker, Burgess, Ogden 2013: Life of St Margaret. Introduction. – In: Wice, The Hagiographical Works: The Conception Nostre Dame and the Lives of St Margaret and St Nicholas. Translation with introduction and notes by J. Blacker, G. S. Burgess and A. V. Ogden. Leiden, 2013, 149–187.
  • Boulhol 1994: Boulhol, P. Hagiographie antique et démonologie. Notes sur quelques Passions grecques (BHG 962z, 964 et 1165–66). – Analecta Bollandiana, 112, 1994, 255–303.
  • Clayton, Magennis 1999: Clayton, M., H. Magennis. Introduction. – In: The Old English Lives of St Margaret. Ed. by M. Clayton and H. Magennis. Cambridge, 1999, 3–7 (Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 9).
  • Dresvina 2009: Dresvina, Ju. St Cinderella, a virgin martyr: literary and iconographic translations of the legend of St Margaret of Antioch. – In: Lost in Translation? Eds. Ch. Whitehead and D. Renevey. Turnhout, 2009 (The Medieval Translator 12), 281–296.
  • Dresvina 2012: Dresvina, Ju. The Significance of the Demonic Episode in the Legend of St Margaret of Antioch. – Medium Aevum, 81, 2012, 2, 189–209.
  • Dresvina 2016: Dresvina, Ju. A Maid with a Dragon. The Cult of St Margaret of Antioch in Medieval England. Oxford, 2016.
  • Kälviäinen 2017: Kälviäinen, N. Ἡ χειρόγραφη παράδοση τοῦ μαρτυρίου τῆς ἁγίας Μαρίνας καὶ τὸ πρόβλημα τῆς σχέσης τῶν παραλλαγῶν BHG 1165–1166 καὶ 1167(c). Paper, presented at the 2nd Meeting of Greek Byzantinists in Patra (13.–15.12.2017). (достъп 09.05.2019).
  • Kälviäinen 2018: Kälviäinen, N. Searching for the historical context of the genesis of the Greek premetaphrastic Passion of St. Marina of Antioch (BHG 1165–7c). Paper, presented at the University of Reading PhD Colloquium on Late Antiquity (04. –05.05.2018).  (достъп 09.05.2019).
  • Kälviäinen 2019: Kälviäinen, N. ‘Not a Few of the Martyr Accounts Have Been Falsified from the Beginning’. Some Preliminary Remarks on the Censorship and Fortunes of the Demonic Episode in the Greek Passion of St. Marina (BHG 1165–1167c). – In: Translation and Transmission. Collection of articles. Eds. J. Hämeen-Anttila, I. Lindstedt. Münster, 2019,107–137 (The Intellectual Heritage of the Ancient and Medieval Near East 3).
  • ODB: Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. 2. New York–Oxford, 1991, 1299 s.v. “Marina”.
  • Petrović, Mihaljević 2013: Hrvatskoglagoljski fragmenti Legende o sv. Eustahiju i Pasije sv. Marine. – In: Hagiographia Slavica. Ed. Johannes Reinhart. München, 2013 (Wiener Slawistischer Almanach, Sonderband 82), 171–215.
  • Sauget 1966: Sauget, J.-M. Marina (Margherita). – In: Bibliotheca Sanctorum. 8. Rome, 1966, col. 1150‒1160.
  • Usener 1879: Usener, H. Legenden der heiligen Pelagia. Bonn, 1879.
    Usener 1886: Usener, H. Acta S. Marinae et S. Christophori. – In: Festschrift zur fünften Säcularfeier der Carl-Ruprechts-Universität zu Heidelberg. Bonn, 1886, 15–53.
  • Vinogradov 2016: Vinogradov, А. Yu. Two Hagiographic Notes. St. Simon – Apostle of Cimmerian Bosporus? (Higher School of Economics Research Paper No. WP BRP 127/HUM/2016 (достъп 07.05.2019).
  • White 2008: White, М. The Rise of the Dragon in Middle Byzantine Hagiography. – Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 32, 2008, 2, 149‒167.
  • Εὐστρατιάδης 1961: Εὐστρατιάδης, Σ. Ἁγιολόγιον τῆς Ὀρθοδόξου Ἐκκλησίας. Ἀθῆναι, [1961], 297.



SESDiva ERA.Net RUS Plus Call 2017 – S&T

SESDiva. Project № 156

SESDiva aims at creating a virtual museum of written culture in relation to the social, religious, cultural, and ideological environment and relations between the South and East Slavs throughout the centuries from the 11th to the beginning of the 20th century.

Duration: 2018-2020
Program: ERA.Net RUS Plus Call 2017 ‐ S&T Projects