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Pilgrim’s Bottle of Saint Menas

Pilgrim's Bottle of Saint Menas - Benaki Museum, Athens - Joy of Museums

Pilgrim’s Bottle of Saint Menas

This ceramic Pilgrim’s Bottle was used for holy water or oil from the shrine of Saint Menas in Egypt. The Pilgrim’s flask depicted St Minas in supplication, with camels seated on either side of his feet and wanted to take holy water or oil back to their relatives.

Saint Minas (285 – c. 309) was a wonder-worker who became one of the most well-known Egyptian saints. He was credited with many miracles attributed to his intercession and prayers. Sick people from all over the Christian world used to visit his shrine and were healed through the intercessions of Saint Mina. Today, clay Menas flasks, on which the saint’s name and picture are stamped, are found in diverse countries around the Mediterranean world and beyond.

Saint Menas

Minas was an Egyptian soldier in the Roman army martyred because he refused to recant his Christian faith. Legend has it that Menas’ sister brought his body to Alexandria, where she placed the saint’s body in a church. When the time of persecution ended, Menas’ body was put on a camel to be taken to the Libyan Desert. At a certain spot near a water well at the end of Lake Mariout, not far from Alexandria, the camel stopped and wouldn’t move. The Christians took this a sign from God and buried Menas’ body there, and it became the location of his shrine many years later.

El Alamein battle near Saint Menas Church

According to Orthodox Christian belief, in 1942, during the North-Africa WWII campaign, German forces made a halt near an ancient ruined church dedicated to Saint Menas. During the first night of engagement, at midnight, Saint Menas came out of his ruined church and appeared in the midst of the German camp at the head of a caravan of camels, as was shown on the walls of the ruined church in the frescoes depicting his miracles. This terrifying apparition so undermined German morale that it contributed to the brilliant victory of the Allies.

Reflections

  • How old is the act of pilgrimage?

Pilgrim’s Bottle of Saint Menas

  • Title:            Pilgrim’s Bottle of Saint Menas
  • Date:            5th – 6th century
  • Culture:      Byzantine Egyptian
  • Geography:  Alexandria Egypt
  • Museum:       Benaki Museum, Athens

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“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”
– Greek Proverb

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM