In the Eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire (330-1453 AD), based in Byzantium, renamed Constantinople for Emperor Constantine (now Istanbul, Turkey), the Feast of the Holy Notaries was celebrated on October 25th.
Most holidays were religious festivals and saints’ days. Many trade guilds held annual festivals and processions in honor of their patron saints. Guild membership was expensive but included financial protection for members in the event of ill fortune. Guild members were expected to participate in events.
Festivals provided an opportunity for leisure and escape from hardships of everyday life.
Masked notary students and their teachers wore costumes, staged comic shows, and paraded through the streets to the church of their notary guild patrons, Saints Markianos and Martyrios (Marcian and Martyrius), protectors of notaries. The two saints were notaries under Patriarch Saint Paul the Confessor during the reign of Emperor Constantius II (reign 337-361 AD). They lived at Paul’s house.
Markianos was a cantor (singer) and reader of the Holy Scripture and Martyrios was a sub-deacon at the first Cathedral Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), built 346 AD. The first two churches were destroyed by riots. The third church at the site, built in 537 AD, is now a museum in Istanbul (see photo).
Patriarch Paul was ousted and strangled by Arians. Saints Markianos and Martyrios refused to yield to bribery, corruption, false charges, heresy and torture, and were beheaded by heretical Arian Patriarch Macedonius around 355 AD. Their holy bodies and sacred relics were buried outside the city gate and preserved by Orthodox Christians. Miracles of healing were reported at their tomb site.
Later, their relics were transferred by decree of Patriarch St. John Chrysostom (reign 397-403 AD) to the Church of the Holy Notaries, built in their honor under Emperor Theodosius I (reign 379-395 AD). Believers at the church were healed of many infirmities through the prayers of the saints.
Eleventh-century poet Christopher of Mytilene (Christophoros Mytilenaios) (1000-1050 AD) composed a 231-verse poem describing the procession on the Feast of the Holy Notaries through the Forum of Constantine to the Church of the Holy Notaries, located on a hill in the western part of Constantinople.
Participants wore an assortment of costumes, some wearing crowns to imitate the imperial family, or actors’ masks while acting or miming, others wearing women’s garments. There was a carnival atmosphere, with comical and satirical acts generating laughter from spectators. The festival of Christian origin had borrowed popular elements from non-religious celebrations.
Eventually, the church prohibited disrespectful celebrations. Constantinople Patriarch Loukas (Luke) Chrysoberges (reign 1156-69) banned carnival-like festivities on the Feast of the Holy Notaries.
The Feast of the Holy Notaries is still celebrated on October 25th in the Greek Orthodox Church and Byzantine Catholic Church.
In the Roman Catholic Church, April 25th is the Feast Day of Saint Mark, Patron Saint of notaries and lawyers.
1. Saints Markianos and Martyrios painting, Fair Use, education
2. Church of the Holy Wisdom, commonly known as Hagia Sophia, former Greek Orthodox church converted to a mosque, now a museum, in Istanbul by Robert Raderschatt (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
3. St. John Chrysostom statue, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City, by Doctor Swan (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons