EPIMACHUS OF PELUSIUM, SAINT
A martyr in the great persecutions of DIOCLETIAN about 303 (feast day: 14 Bashans). He was of considerable prominence in Christian Egypt. Sa‘id ibn al- Bitriq (876-939) writes in his Annals (Cheikho, 1906, Vol. 1, p. 16): “In the days of both Diocletian and Maximian thousands of martyrs died; they tortured Mar Jirgis in all sorts of ways and put him to death in Palestine although he was of the Cappadocian nation, and these two killed Mar Menas, Mar Victor, Vincent, Epimachus and Mercurius.” For an Egyptian of the ninth century, Epimachus occupied quite naturally a place close to the most renowned figures. The Oxyrhynchus papyrus calendar, dated 535-536, notes a liturgical synaxarion in honor of the martyr, in the church founded by PHOIBAMMON on 3 Hatur.
Only four mutilated papyrus leaves now preserved at Turin remain in Coptic on Saint Epimachus. They have been published by F. Rossi (1888, p. 235). The reading of the text of the first fragment of a column was improved by O. von Lemm (1910, pp. 1461-64). The Coptic fragments are particularly striking because of the large number of Egyptian toponyms and because of the date they imply. These fragments, which belong to the fifth-sixth centuries, show in their title 14 Bashans but give 3 Hatur for the execution of the martyr.
It would hardly be possible to interpret these fragments without the help of the Arabic parallel preserved in the notice of the Arabic SYNAXARION, which summarizes in detail the contents of the longest Coptic legend. We should also consult the rare Greek Passions of which an Arabic version also exists (Esbroeck, 1966, pp. 399-442). These parallel accounts allow us to affirm that Epimachus was a weaver at Pelusium, and that he was twenty-seven years of age when he voluntarily offered himself as a witness to his faith before Polemius, the governor, who had set up his court of justice on the dried-up river near Naucratis, where the altars for pagan sacrifices were also erected. When he reached the place of torture, Epimachus comforted a girl called Eutropia, fortified the prisoners in their prison, and brought them the comfort of prayer and of faith.
When he himself suffered martyrdom, a drop of his blood was responsible for cures.
The Coptic fragments also make it possible to state that he brought the Eucharist (five loaves and two fishes) to his brothers Kallinikos and Dorotheos, leaving the golden key (perhaps for the tabernacle) to them. The two latter names are in fact those of the two bishops who succeeded one another after Constantine in the see of Pelusium. The Synaxarion also speaks of a translation at Pelusium that has been completely preserved in Arabic and has been published by M. van Esbroeck. From this it appears that Epimachus was first of all placed in a convent and that because of the peace of Constantine his body was transferred to Pelusium, where, thanks to the emperor, a large church was built. There is no ground for disallowing this item of information, for the cult very soon spread beyond the frontiers of Egypt.
At Rome the cult of Saint Epimachus was later mixed with that of Saint Gordian. A Latin text places the Passions of these two saints in the reign of Julian the Apostate (Bibliotheca hagiographica latina 3612). However, the end of that text and the oldest topographical notices in the Latin world show that Gordian was, in fact, buried in the Church of Saint Epimachus, who therefore antedated him.
For both of them, however, the feast day has continued to be May 10, probably because of the initial commemoration of Epimachus of Pelusium. At Constantinople a relic of Epimachus was brought by Constantine and placed in his palace. According to a Greek synaxarion of the twelfth century, the saint’s day was celebrated in the martyrium of Saint Stratonikos.
In Egypt itself, the cult of Saint Epimachus suffered a fate parallel to the progressive sanding up of Farama or Pelusium. The episcopal seat gradually moved to Tinnis. The bishops finally came to be designated bishops of Tinnis and Damirah. Epimachus of Pelusium acquired a counterpart in the person of Epimachus of Arwat or of Shubra Minsina—a disciple of John of Arwat under the patriarch ALEXANDER II (705-730). Epimachus of Arwat seems to have been called Moses when he was at Scetis. When he became bishop of Farama in the patriarchate of KHA’IL I (744-767) he assumed the name of Epimachus, undoubtedly because of the great martyr of his episcopal see. The HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS OF ALEXANDRIA records that he performed two miracles to the disadvantage of the Chalcedonians.
The location of Damirah in the Arabic translation and in the Synaxarion—halfway between Farama (or later Tinnis) and Naucratis—corresponds to the spot where Epimachus was laid before being moved to Pelusium. It would provide a valid toponymical explanation for Miamyris, the place transcribed in the Coptic Passion, where the dried-up river was on the route from Pelusium to Naucratis.
Epimachus also has an ancient liturgical canon, preserved only in Georgian. More than one detail makes it possible to recognize in this Passion passages of the type we find in the Arabic Synaxarion. The hymn was probably composed in the Greek Palestinian period prior to the activity of the monastery of the Studium at Constantinople, when a great quantity of hymnographical literature was preserved for us in Georgian translations.
The Arabic “translation” of Epimachus tells us that the chapel of Epimachus, built by Constantine before the large church, was the work of a certain Sophronius and of Annianus. At Oxyrhynchus, too, a church was founded by one Annianus, before the persecutions ended, in honor of Saint Colluthus. There is nothing odd in the rediscovery of such ancient hints relating to Epimachus. To the north of the famous temple of Abu Simbel there is a fresco that shows Epimachus on horseback: it is a work dating from the eleventh or twelfth century (Leclant, 1965, p. 203). Finally, in the heart of Nubia a STELA has been found, dating from around the eighth century and with an inscription in Coptic that reads: “On this day the commemoration of the blessed Epimachus, the third day of Paoni [Ba’unah].” This is the southernmost evidence for the cult.
- Cheikho, L., ed. Annals, Vol. 1, by Sa‘id ibn al-Batriq. Paris and Beirut, 1906.
- Esbroeck, M. van. “Saint Epimaque de Péluse, III. Les fragments coptes.” Bibliotheca Hagiographica Orientalis 274. Analecta Bollandiana 84 (1966); II, 85 (1967); III, 100 (1982):125-45.
- Leclant, J. “Fouilles et travaux en Egypte et au Soudan, 1963-64.” Orientalia 34 (1965).
- Lemm, O. von. “Koptische Miszellen XCI.” Bulletin de l’Académie Imperiale de Saint-Petersbourg 4.2 (1910).
- Mina, T. Inscriptions coptes et grecques de Nubie. Cairo, 1942. Rossi, F. “I martirii Geoore, Heraei, Epimaco e Ptolomeo.” Memorie della Reale Academia delle Scienze di Torino 38 (1888).
MICHEL VAN ESBROECK