Medieval Spanish Martyrs

Resting Place of Medieval Spanish Martyrs Perhaps Found

A text written by the Greek archbishop Paul of Monemvasia tells of a series of miracles connected with the remains of the Spanish martyrs, Valerius, Vincent, and Eulalia from Barcelona. The text is preserved only in an Arabic translation and it presents many difficulties of interpretation. According to the text, however, one day the inhabitants of the castle of "the master of Damala" witnessed the miraculous arrival of the caskets, bearing the remains of the saints, sailing on the sea "in a miraculous manner" and arriving at the shore "without the help of a human hand." The inhabitants decided to build a chapel to honor the martyrs, whom they recognized as having come from Spain. But that evening the caskets disappeared from the seaside, only to reappear the next morning at a "higher spot, in front of the castle." The inhabitants recognized the miracle and constructed a church at the place where they were shown. Later the Arabs attacked the castle and carried off the inhabitants, leaving the caskets in the ruins of the chapel. The remains of the martyrs underwent various other adventures, but they eventually made their way back to Spain, where the cathedral church of St. Eulalia was dedicated in Barcelona in 1298.

Scholars, from both East and West, have long speculated where the "castle of the Lord of Damala" might have been, and various places were suggested, most of them in the area of Monemvasia, for example the islands of Kythera or Antikythera. No universal agreement, however, was forthcoming. In 1995, however, Adonis Kyrou, publisher of one of Athens' daily newspapers, presented an article which argued that the resting place of the martyrs was on the island of Dokos, not far from the tourist island of Hydra in the Gulf of Argos. With this article in mind, and with Mr. Kyrou's kind offer to provide us with transportation to the uninhabited, waterless island, we sought a permit from the Greek authorities to carry out a program of investigation on a hill at the northeastern end of the island. The permit was forthcoming and in late July 1996 a small team from the Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia carried out a limited program of discovery and recording on Dokos.

Geographic Locale of Dokos

Geographic Locale of Dokos

Our major focus was the recording of the walls of the castle itself, but we also were able to record interesting details about a small church located on a saddle below the castle and to the south. The location has a clear view to the sea, on both the east and the west, and it ideally matches the situation as described by Paul of Monemvasia. At this point is a small (ca. 3 x 5.8 m.) church dedicated to St. John the Theologian. This chapel is relatively modern and it obviously cannot be the church mentioned by Paul of Monemvasia. It was clear, however, that the modern church was built on the remains of a much larger 3-aisled basilica, presumably dated to the 7th century after Christ. On the basis of the surviving walls the nave of this basilica may be restored with a width of 9.00 m. and a length of 18.63 m. (excluding the apse). To the west there must have been an atrium, although its length cannot presently be determined.

Plan of Church

Plan of Church

This earlier building may well have been the resting place of the Spanish martyrs. Obviously such an identification cannot be proven on the basis of the present evidence. Indeed, the suggested reconstruction of the basilica is only hypothetical and based on fragments of walls that are visible above the present surface. Near the modern church, however, were many pieces of rich marble, the kind that would have been used in decorating a major Christian monument.

Continuing work, we hope, will clarify some of these questions and will almost certainly provide clear evidence on the size and shape of the early Byzantine building and hopefully answer the question of its connection with the remains of the Spanish martyrs. This is a question of considerable historical importance and one that will provide significant information about connections between Spain and Greece at the beginning of the Middle Ages.

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