Menas ampullae

Date: Fifth to seventh century
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Egypt
Medium: Terra-cotta
Description: These pilgrimage ampullae, a type of flask with handles used to carry substances from holy sites, are among many that were mass produced between the fifth and seventh centuries as souvenirs for pilgrims to the early Christian settlement of Abu Mina, west of Alexandria (Egypt). Visitors to this town and pilgrimage complex often focused on the shrine of St. Menas, said to be an Egyptian soldier executed in the late third or early fourth century after declaring himself a Christian. After his martyrdom, the saint acquired a reputation for miraculous healing. On the outside of the typical flask, St. Menas appears as an orant figure with his arms outstretched. On either side of him are kneeling camels. Pilgrims could purchase such flasks to take home a eulogia ("blessing"), usually water or oil that had come into contact with the holy shrine and was thought to become a miracle-working substance. The pilgrimage complex included incubation rooms for sick pilgrims, and the eulogiai could likewise have been used for healing purposes, sometimes for people who were not healthy enough to visit Abu Mina themselves.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 2
Image Credits: © Trustees of the British Museum; Cleveland Museum of Art

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Cleveland Museum of Art, Menas ampulla