The Martyr Boniface of Rome (Boniface of Tarsus) was a saint who suffered for Christ in the late 3rd century AD during the reign of Emperor Diocletian in the city of Tarsus, Cilicia (now Tarsus, Turkey).

Accounts of Boniface’s martyr’s death survived only in the hagiographic literature. The Torments of St. Boniface, included in the Great Menaion Reader by Metropolitan Macarius reports that Boniface was a slave of a rich Roman woman Aglaida and carried an immoral relationship with his master. Aglaida, a secret Christian, wishing to save her soul, sent Boniface to the East, where Christians were subjected to persecution, on an errand to collect holy relics. Arriving in Tarsus, he left his servants in the hotel and went to the amphitheater where Christians were subjected to torture. Seeing their sufferings, Boniface felt deep sympathies for these people and announced himself to be a Christian too. He was arrested, tortured and executed. Worried about Boniface’s long absence, his servants set out in search of him and found his dead body. They brought Boniface’s body to his Aglaida. She built a church on the site of his grave and dedicated it to the holy martyr. She ended her life in repentance and prayer.

Saint Boniface is commonly depicted as a young or middle-aged man wearing martyr’s vestments – a chiton and himation. The earliest surviving image of the saint is found on a miniature of the Menologion of St. Basil II (Vat. gr. 1613, Р. 70–71) of 976 – 1025 AD. In Byzantine art the saint is commonly shown in the beheading scene, his individual images are rarely encountered. In Russian art such images became widespread since the 18th century as Boniface was venerated as a saint praying for people suffering from alcoholism such as a 19th century icon of The Martyr Boniface from the Kolomenskoe Museum collections.

St. Boniface of Rome is commemorated on January 1 (December 19, 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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