VIII, 2012, 1

From Text to Image: Representations of The Bringing of St. John the New’s Relics to Suceava Scene in Moldavian Medieval Art | p. 291–314

hagiographic narratives, iconography of relics’ adventus., Moldavian metropolitan seat, St. John the New, translatio reliquiarum


The historical event of the translation of John the New’s relics to Suceava, which took place in the year 1415 and was rich in political and religious implications, was reflected in both textual and visual hagiographical narratives dedicated to the saint during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Besides documenting the actual arrival of the relics in Moldavia and the beginning of St. John’s local veneration, these narratives, especially the visual ones, also functioned as a display of political and ecclesiastical power. Moreover, since more than a century separates the written narrative from its pictorial illustrations, one may assume that text and images reflect different phases in the evolution of the cult, as well as in the perception of its beginnings. The present article comparatively explores these hagiographical narratives, in the specific context of their production, in order to investigate how they reflect the formal recognition of the cult and the broader significance of the event for the Moldavian State and Church. According to the text, during the relics’ ceremonial reception, the prince Alexander the Good (1400–1432) prostrated before the chest, publicly venerated the holy body and proclaimed the saint as divine protector of his country, before disposing the final deposition of the relics in the metropolitan church. While the description of this solemn adventus was the main source for the ensuing visual representations of the scene in monumental art, the majority of the latter reveal a slightly different view of the event, which eludes the motive of the princely veneration in favour of a more conventional iconographic formula that emphasized in turn the implication of the local Church in the endeavour. More than mere hagiographical or iconographical topoi, such nuances can be interpreted as a reflection of the growing autocephalous ambitions of the Moldavian Church, starting with the middle of the sixteenth century.