Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki (Greek: Άγιος Δημήτριος της Θεσσαλονίκης) is a Christian martyr of the early 4th century AD.
During the Middle Ages, he came to be revered as one of the most important Orthodox military saints, often paired with Saint George. His feast day is 26 October for Christians following the Gregorian calendar.
St. Demetrius was initially depicted in icons and mosaics as a young man in patterned robes with the distinctive tablion of the senatorial class across his chest. Miraculous military interventions were attributed to him during several attacks on Thessaloniki, and he gradually became thought of as a soldier: a Constantinopolitan ivory of the late 10th century shows him as an infantry soldier (Metropolitan Museum of Art). But an icon of the late 11th century in Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai shows him as before, still a civilian. This may be due to iconic depiction customs on how saints are depicted.
Another Sinai icon, of the Crusader period and painted by a French artist working in the Holy Land in the second half of the 12th century, shows what then became the most common depiction. Demetrius, bearded, rather older, and on a dark horse, rides together with St George, unbearded and on a white horse. Both are dressed as cavalrymen. Also, while St. George is often shown spearing a dragon, St. Demetrius is depicted spearing the gladiator Lyaeos, who according to story was responsible for killing many Christians. Lyaeos is commonly depicted below Demetrius and lying supine, having already been defeated; Lyaeos is traditionally drawn much smaller than Demetrius. In traditional hagiography, Demetrius did not directly kill Lyaeos, but rather through his prayers the gladiator was defeated by Demetrius’ disciple, Nestor.
A modern Greek iconographic convention depicts Demetrius with the Great White Tower in the background. The anachronistic White Tower acts as a symbolic depiction of the city of Thessaloniki, despite having been built in the 16th century, centuries after his life, and the exact architecture of the older tower that stood at the same site in earlier times is unknown. Again, iconography often depicts saints holding a church or protecting a city.
“Demetrius of Thessaloniki.” OrthodoxWiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Demetrius