Garo Nalbandian

The greatest composer in Christendom. Dressed as a deacon and carrying a censer (incense burner), the figure in this 17th-century fresco from the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem is identified by the Greek words on either side of his halo as “St. Romanos the Melodist.” Not having a priest’s power to enact the sacraments, deacons assist in the church service, performing such roles as preparing the incense, reading biblical passages or participating in the chants.

Legend has it that Mary appeared to Romanos on Christmas Eve, handed him a piece of paper and instructed him to eat it; the next day Romanos mounted the pulpit and recited the first of the 1,000 sung poems said to have been composed by him. Of these, only 87 survive of which 25 are probably not authentic. Whatever the source of his talent or the size of his output, Romanos is acknowledged as the greatest composer of Kontakia, or sung epic religious verse on biblical themes.