St. Petka

This Orthodox saint’s proper name is Paraskeva of the Balkans, but she is also known alternatively as Petka. She was born on the shores of the Sea of Marmara at the start of the 11th century. She claimed that God spoke to her at the age of 10 while in church, quoting Jesus (and therefore himself) by saying ‘whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). Immediately inspired to be really, really holy, Petka ran away from her wealthy, landowning parents, giving her nice clothes to the poor on her way to Constantinople.

 

She travelled much, always staying a step ahead of her parents who disapproved of her lifestyle choice (probably due to her ‘inexplicable’ charity toward the poor). She spent 5 years at the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos in Heraclea Pontica (present day Karadeniz Ereğli). Whilst here, she prayed constantly and often saw the Virgin Mary, who one day told her to visit Jerusalem. This she did, remaining in Holy Land for a number of years, but later she returned to Constantinople. She died at 27 and was buried in the Church of the Apostles in the village of Katikratia.

 

Years after her death, she demanded that an old sinner buried next to her be removed because she couldn’t bear his ‘darkness and stench’. A monk complied, discovering her miraculously incorrupt body in the process, replete with an Odour of Sanctity. Her remains were moved into the church, and from there began a prolonged tour of the Balkans, moving via Tivorno in Bulgaria, Belgrade, and then Constantinople. In 1641 she was moved to Iasi in Romania, having been presented as a gift to Vasile Lupu, Prince of Moldavia. Her remains are still a major destination of pilgrimage to members of the Orthodox Church.

 

Petka’s feast day in today, 14th October. She is a patron to spinners, needleworkers, embroiderers and weavers, probably due to her generosity in clothing the poor. She is shown here on a woodcut produced in Bulgaria. The print was acquired by the Museum in 1993, presented to us by Kanastojanoff family, owners of the oldest printers in Bulgaria, who desired to establish links with the west following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The reflections on the surface in the image are due to the method of storage – it, like many of our paper objects, is kept inside a pouch made of melinex film, which helps to preserve it. I photographed the print while it was inside the pouch. It can be seen by appointment in the V&A’s Prints and Drawings Study Room.

E.727-1993, woodcut showing St. Petka © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

E.727-1993, woodcut showing St. Petka © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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