With the hour of death drawing nigh, many God-fearing Byzantines sought the comfort of the Eucharist, that most essential provision for a secure passage to the afterlife.1 Circumstances, however, prevented the dying Andronikos II Palaiologos from availing himself of the solace and succour provided by the sacrament. Andronikos, who, following his removal from the throne, became a monk under the name of Antony, passed away on a February night in 1332, weakened by old age and severe diarrhoea. As we learn from Nikephoros Gregoras’ Roman History, he spent his final hours in the imperial palace, in the company of his daughter Simonis. Several close friends, including Gregoras himself, paid him a visit that evening. The deposed monarch was in good spirits, engaging the visitors in a lively conversation that continued well past midnight. Upon their departure, he dined. He ate some shellfish – Lent had already begun – and drank cold water in an attempt to reduce the heat he felt in his blood vessels. This nocturnal meal appears to have upset the ex-emperor’s stomach, swiftly leading to an acute bodily discomfort. In due course, his breathing, too, became laboured – a clear sign that he was about to die. As Gregoras relates,

Because it was the dead of night, he could not find anyone to administer communion to him, for all the gates of the imperial palace were closed. Having stood up, he gave thanks to God and with abundant tears and many genuflections prayed for the salvation of his soul. Then taking the divine icon of the Mother of God, his enkolpion, he put it into his mouth instead of the Eucharist, sat on his bed, and died at once, while it was still night.2

Aside from offering us a precious glimpse into what we may call the Byzantine art of dying, Gregoras’ account is noteworthy for the striking role that a personal devotional object plays in it. Deprived of the possibility to leave this world with the Eucharist in his mouth, the ex-emperor turned to the small Marian icon suspended on his chest and consumed it, as it were, in lieu of the sacrament.