Icons have been often described as a method of teaching about theology, Christ’s life and His Saints to the illiterate. In centuries past – and it seems for most of human history – the majority of people could not read or write and so Christian churches were decorated with Biblical images and Saints for their edification. I was always a bit wary of this description of icons because, on top of most icons having written descriptions on them anyway, very few iconographic images can be read “cold”. A fairly deep knowledge of the Bible and the lives of the Saints is needed before icons can be easily identified as depicting such-and-such a story or showing a particular Saint. At best, they are a reminder of the person it depicts, but not really a teaching method. The Gospels and the lives of Saints were primarily learned by hearing them, usually in church.
The life of Saint Phanourios (or Fanourios; Gr. Φανουρίου) is different, however, because literally everything we know of him – his life, his martyrdom, even his name – was revealed by an icon discovered many centuries after he lived.