Man of God of Edessa Alexius
This general title is given to the anonymous saintly protagonist of a narrative set in Edessa in the 5th cent. The core original story is found in 5 mss. In this account, the Man of God is the son of rich senatorial parents, living either in Rome or Constantinople. On the eve of an advantageous marriage, he boarded a ship and eventually ended up in Edessa. Although sought for, he was not found but, one night, his saintly quality was discovered by the custodian of a church in Edessa. Questioned as to his identity by the custodian, he first identified himself as one of the anonymous poor, but later told his story to the custodian on condition that his identity not be revealed. When the Man of God fell sick, the custodian placed him in a house for strangers. The custodian had to leave the city for a while and, during his absence, the Man of God died and was buried with the poor. Distraught at the news, the custodian besought Bp. Rabbula to help find the saint’s body and give it proper reverence. When they entered the place where the poor were buried, only the clothes of the Man of God were found, not his corpse. Bp. Rabbula promised never to build anything more except hospices for the poor and strangers. The whole story contrasts strongly with other narratives of Syr. saints who performed miracles and prodigious feats of asceticism. A narrative similar to this is found in a Greek ms., but the bp.’s name is not given and details place the story at a later date than Rabbula.
The core Syriac narrative then is continued in the tradition. In this development, the Man of God did not actually die, but left Edessa to escape notice. He returned to his parents’ house and lived in it unbeknownst to them. When he died, his sanctity and identity were miraculously revealed and miracles occurred round his tomb. His parents were given names and, later in the tradition, the Man of God received a name, Alexius. Under this name, the tradition spread widely in the European tradition. His feast day in the Roman church is 17 July.
- A. Amiaud, La légende syriaque de saint Alexis, l’homme de Dieu (1889).
- R. Doran, Stewards of the poor: The man of God, Rabbula, and Hiba in fifth-century Edessa (2006). (incl. further references)
- H. J. W. Drijvers, ‘Die Legende des heiligen Alexius und der Typus des Gottesmannes im syrischen Christentum’, in Typus, Symbol, Allegorie bei den östlichen Vätern und ihren Parallelen im Mittelalter, ed. M. Schmidt and C. F. Geyer (1982), 187–217.
- H. J. W. Drijvers, ‘The Man of God of Edessa, Bishop Rabbula and the Urban Poor: Church and Society in the Fifth Century’, JECS 4 (1996), 235–48.
- F. G. McLeod, ‘The Stranger as a Source of Social Change in Early Syriac Christianity’, in Christianity and the Stranger. Historical Essays, ed. F. W. Nichols (1995), 36–63.
- C. Odenkirchen, The Life of St. Alexius in the Old French version of the Hildesheim manuscript. The original text reviewed, with comparative Greek and Latin versions, all accompanied by English translations (1978).
- M. Rösler, ‘Alexiusprobleme’, Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 53 (1933), 508–28.
- C. E. Stebbins, ‘Les origines de la légende de Saint Alexis’, Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire 51 (1973), 497–507.
- C. E. Stebbins, ‘Les grandes versions de la légende de Saint Alexis’, Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire 53 (1975), 679–95.
How to Cite This Entry
Footnote Style Citation with Date:
Robert Doran, “Man of God of Edessa,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Man-of-God-of-Edessa.
Bibliography Entry Citation:
Doran, Robert. “Man of God of Edessa.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Man-of-God-of-Edessa.
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