Two Holy Legends manuscript

Two Holy Legends manuscript

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Hargrett Manuscripts
Creator: John, of Damascus, Saint
Title: Two Holy Legends manuscript
Dates: circa 1636
Quantity: 1.0 v.
Coll. Number: ms1024

Biographical/Historical Note

Barlaam and Josaphat are principal characters of a legend of Christian antiquity, which was a favourite subject of writers in the Middle Ages. The story is substantially as follows: Many inhabitants of India had been converted by the Apostle St. Thomas and were leading Christian lives. In the third or fourth century King Abenner (Avenier) persecuted the Church. The astrologers had foretold that his son Josaphat would one day become a Christian. To prevent this the prince was kept in close confinement. But, in spite of all precautions, Barlaam, a hermit of Senaar, met him and brought him to the true Faith. Abenner tried his best to pervert Josaphat, but, not succeeding, he shared the government with him. Later Abenner himself became a Christian, and, abdicating the throne, became a hermit. Josaphat governed alone for a time, then resigned, went into the desert, found his former teacher Barlaam, and with him spent his remaining years in holiness. Years after their death, the bodies were brought to India and their grave became renowned by miracles. Barlaam and Josaphat found their way into the Roman Martyrology (27 November), and into the Greek calendar (26 August). Vincent of Beauvais, in the thirteenth century, had given the story in his "Speculum Historiale". It is also found in an abbreviated form in the "Golden Legend" of Jacobus de Voragine of the same century.

The story is a Christianized version of one of the legends of Buddha, as even the name Josaphat would seem to show. This is said to be a corruption of the original Joasaph, which is again corrupted from the middle Persian Budasif (Budsaif=Bodhisattva). Still it is of historical value, since it contains the "Apology" presented by the Athenian philosopher Aristides to the Emperor Adrian (or Antoninus Pius). The Greek text of the legend, written probably by a monk of the Sabbas monastery near Jerusalem at the beginning of the seventh century, was first published by Boissonade in "Anecdota Graeca" (Paris, 1832), IV, and is reproduced in Migne, P.G., XCVI, among the works of St. John Damascene. The legend cannot, however, have been a work of the great Damascene, as was proved by Zotenberg in "Notices sur le livre de Barlaam et Josaphat" (Paris, 1886) and by Hammel in "Verhandl. des 7 interneat. Orientalisten Congresses", Semit. Section (Vienna, 1888). Another edition of the Greek was made by Kechajoglos (Athens, 1884). From the original Greek a German translation was made by F. Liebrecht (Münster, 1847). Latin translations (Minge, P.L., LXXIII), were made in the twelfth century and used for nearly all the European languages, in prose, verse and in miracle plays. Among them is prominent the German epic by Rudolph of Ems in the thirteenth century (Königsberg, 1818, and somewhat later at Leipzig). From the German an Icelandic and Swedish version were made in the fifteenth century. At Manila the legend appeared in the Tagala language of the Philippines. In the East it exists in Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Hebrew.

Catholic Encyclopedia (Retrieved January 22, 2009)

Simeon Stylita is a legend that takes place in the fifth century. People crossing Syrian wastelands saw just such a hermit, and at first shook their heads about his sanity. But the man on the pillar was indeed a saint - St. Simeon the Stylite (i.e. the column-sitter). Those who got to know him, despite his unusual lifestyle, quickly reached that conclusion. Simeon (or Simon), born near the border of Syria, tended sheep for his father until he was thirteen. Then one day in church he heard the beatitudes read. Of the eight, "Blessed are they that mourn" and "Blessed are the clean of heart" impressed him particularly. Moved by them, he decided to become a monk and commit himself to a life of prayer and mortification. Having learned in a couple of monasteries the ways of monastic life, and having become adept at fasting and other forms of self-denial (for instance, he did not eat or drink at all during Lent), Simeon set up as a lone hermit living without shelter on a mountain top. Before long, however, people began to hear of this "escapist", and to visit him, whether out of devotion or curiosity. He cured many of their ailments, and gave counsel to those who asked. Many wanted just to touch him, an indication of their deep reverence. Simeon was glad to help others, but he wanted to be free to carry on his prayers. Therefore in 423 AD he asked some masons to build him a column 15 feet high, with a five or six-foot-square platform on top. When it was finished, he mounted it, resolved never again to descend.

The column helped him both to achieve and to symbolize a greater detachment from the world, although he eventually replaced column No. 1 with higher columns: 20 feet high, 36 feet high, and finally 60 feet high. For the rest of his life, at any rate, he lived and prayed on these eyries, exposed to all the elements. Since he was not a priest, a neighboring priest or bishop would climb up to give him Holy Communion. Now, at the time Simeon climbed his first pillar, the local bishops and abbots, to test his humility, sent word to him to come down "and cease this odd way of life." Simeon started at once to descend. That was enough for the delegate. "You have shown yourself obedient," he told the hermit. "Stay where you are, and God be with you!" The warm popularity that Simeon enjoyed thereafter was nothing short of marvelous. Twice a day he would give a gentle but firm exhortation to the pilgrims who visited him. He especially warned them against swearing and against dishonesty in business. He reminded them of the need of cultivating piety, and the importance of praying for the salvation of others. Christians (including three emperors) were not the only visitors who sought his advice. Persians, Armenians, and Iberians of Caucasus journeyed far to hear his engaging addresses. Many were converted to Christianity by his words and miracles. Simeon died in the summer of 459.

Irondequoit Catholic Communities (Retrieved January 22, 2009)

Scope and Content Note

Two manuscripts in Dutch dating from approximately 1636, the first manuscript is eight pages, the second is four pages in the same handwriting and bound together. "Het Leven van D. H. H. Barlaam Eremnt ende Josaphat cominch das Indien, beschrenis voor das Joannes Damascemis" with "Het Leven van D. H. Simeon Stylita."

Index Terms

Legends, Christian.
Manuscripts (document genre)

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Two Holy Legends manuscript, MS 1024. Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.

Series Descriptions and Folder Listing

1Manuscripts, circa 1636