San Michele, dreams and the ritual of incubation

An ancient practice which is known in Turkey, in the white monastery on the island of Simi and in Anaplous, and is associated with extraordinary interventions by the Prince of Angels

In the southern part of theSymi islandalmost attached to Turkey, in the southern Dodecanese, in a stupendous inlet of the sea is the White Monastery of Archangel Michaelfounded in the 12th century and rebuilt in its current form in the 18th century, a pilgrimage destination for all the populations of the Aegean.

The imprint

Here an imprint and a magnificent icon are preserved as if to underline the victory against the sayings of the iconomanachirei, the Greek island, located just 500 metersfrom the Turkish coast, was really chosen by St. Michael. In fact, according to an ancient local legend, when you sleep for the first time on this island, the Archangel certainly comes in a dream and speaks to you; in the morning all you have to do is tell the dream to the Orthodox pope who patiently listens to you by the sea and explains the invitation that the Archangel addressed to you in the night.

In this extreme Greek strip of the Aegean, the pride of the Eastern and Orthodox tradition is very much alive, indeed it is palpable and perceived almost everywhere and the Orthodox brothers with clarifications and observations do not fail to make you fix it well.

The Greek inscription

In fact, we read in a Greek inscription clearly placed inside the sanctuary that “after arriving here from Chonae, the cult of St. Michael departed from this part of the East towards the West, arriving in a special way at Mount Garganoto the mont saint Michel of Normandy, to the st MIchael’s Mount of Cornovoglia”.

Very interesting is the singular iconography of St. Michael of Panormitis: the celestial Archistrategist holds the sword – scimitar with his right hand but with his left hand well raised he holds tightly the soul in swaddling clothes of a faithful deceased who has snatched from the jaws of satan who is defeated at his feet, just as Christ holds tightly raised in hand the soul of the s. Mother in the Koimesis icon, Dormition of the Virgin.

Three meters high

This is a great icon measuring approxthree meters high, responding to the ancient iconographic canon in response to the teachings of the presbyter Xeniàaias who underlined: “Mé gar éinai themitòn élegen Xenàias asòmatous òntas toùs aggélous, sòmatopoièin”, that is, it is legitimate to present the Angels with the human body, being incorporeal: this is, in essence, a text taken from the Iconoclasts which dates back to the Council of Irea of ​​the year 754.

Therefore, the iconographic representation of Panormitis as well as the many other large-sized images of the Archangel Michael placed on the walls of churches throughout the Christian world is a true blow-up that occupies almost the entire height of the iconographic plane. This grandiose and solemn canon very well underlines the intention existing in past centuries to respond to the contrary saying of the iconomachus, by painting an Archangel of imposing dimensions. Frescoes of the Archangel of considerable sizethey are also found in Italy.

The Byzantine icon

Another beautiful icon of the Archangel in Panormitis shows a resemblance to the Byzantine icon kept in the Gargano sanctuary in that Saint Michael, dressed as a deacon, holds the “ripìdion” – liturgical fan on which the s is impressed. Hand of God with the inscription IC XC, or Jesus Christ.The beauty of the site where the sanctuary of the Archangel is located is truly unique: the sea and the nearby Turkish coast constitute an incomparable panorama that helps you to lift your spirit to heavenly heights. The factories of the sanctuary are very colorful, as is the custom throughout the Aegean islands reserved for buildings intended for worship and public buildings.

Inside the monastery in a refectory hall to welcome thepilgrims, among the many Byzantine frescoes, dominates another great icon of the Archistrategist Michael which appears glorious according to the iconographic canon of Panormitis. In Symi the Orthodox priests on the beach of the island interpret the dreams made on the first night of those who go on pilgrimage to the archangel. In the Greek-Roman world through sleep it was believed to be able to have contact with the divinity (incubation).

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The god Asclepius and the thaumaturges

For this reason, temples had been erected in various places in honor of the god Asclepius and when the Christian religion took over, some were still efficient; others, temples on the other hand in imitation of the pagan ones, similarly became the places to wait, during sleep, for the visit of the Christian miracle workers or of the holy Angels and of Saint Michael.

Incubation is a very remote Christian rite: the main element is sleep which became healthy; during the same the sick people who spent the night in church received the care of the holy Angels through surgery, or with the application of singular medicated poultices based on wax, or oil, or through very strange and sometimes incomprehensible remedies. While in pagan, Greek and Roman temples, only the physical element was recognized; in the Christian tradition, which had not intended to erase those ancient customs, contact with the supernatural was accomplished with prayer to the Trinity and the primacy of the soul over the body was sanctioned, who raised himself through physical help; the healing of the body meant salvation of the soul, therefore a miracle.


Incubation and Constantine

The incubation is also linked to the emperor Constantine, very devoted to the Prince of Angels, who had consecrated two churches to Saint Michael in the area around Byzantium. One was located in the place called Anaplous on the left bank of the Bosphorus. This church was an ancient pagan temple which bore, before its transformation into a church, the name of Sosthenion.

Malala in the “Chronographia” claims that “Constantine, having gone to the Sostenius and seeing the statue placed in the temple, recognized in it the image of an angel dressed as a Christian monk… he asked God in his prayers to let him know which celestial power belonged to statue the figure. Then, lying down in the same place where he had prayed, he was instructed by a night vision concerning the name of the Angel. Waking up immediately he got up and turned towards the East to pray. He later consecrated the place where he had prayed to the Archangel Michael”.


“I am the Archangel Michael”

Nicephorus Callistus (Hist. Eccl. Lib. VII) in turn adds details: “As soon as he fell asleep an image similar to the statue of Sostenius had appeared to him: I am, said this image, the Archangel Michael, general of the celestial militias subjected to the God Sabaoth, the guardian of the Christian faith (éforos). The Archangel Michael made frequent appearances there. All those who were threatened by painful events, by some imminent damage, who were seized by an unknown evil, by an incurable disease, obtained there, imploring God, miraculous protection. According to a belief that has certain testimony, the Archangel Michael makes himself visible in this place, and thus gives it a healthy virtue”.

The act performed by Constantine, who lay down and slept in the temple, leads us precisely to a custom adopted in all temples of medical deities, precisely that of incubation. This use, followed by sufferers, whothey went to the temples of Aesculapius, it was a way of consulting all the medical deities of antiquity, Serapis, Isis…the gods of Sosteres, a god of Sardinia, Minerva Medica among the Latins. The custom of incubation did not exist only for medical consultations. In the temple erected at Amfiarao, Orope in Boezia, those who came to consult the oracle sacrificed a ram to this divinity, on whose skin they fell asleep to receive communications in dreams.

St. Michael the Archangel

San Michele, dreams and the ritual of incubation