|Ancient Egypt and Archaeology Web Site|
Pilgrim Flasks or Ampullae, which were often found in Egypt, were used by pilgrims to carry water or oil home from the tomb
of Saint Menas. He is always shown between two camels, the animals that, according to the legend, returned his body to
Egypt for burial. Saint Menas’ (known as Reprobras in the Catholic Church) burial site is located in Memphis on the head of the Nile
Pilgrim Flasks are not exclusive to Saint Menas and the shape and material is found in many pre AD uses within Egypt.
Martyr under Diocletian, about AD 295. According to the Greek Acts published with Latin translation in "Analecta Bollandiana", III 258 (Surlus XI 241), Menas, a Christian and an Egyptian by birth, served in the Roman army under the tribune Firmilian. When the army came to Cotyaeus in Phrygia, Menas hearing of the impious edicts issued against the Christians by the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian left the army, retired to a solitude in the mountains and served God by fasting vigils and prayer. During the celebration of a great festival Menas appeared in the midst of the populous in the circus, and fearlessly professed his faith. He was led before the prefect Pyrrhus, scourged, put to torture, and finally beheaded. His body was brought to Egypt and the martyr was soon invoked in many needs and afflictions. The fame of the miracles wrought, spread far and wide and thousands of pilgrims came to the grave in the desert of Mareotis between Alexandria and the valley of Natron. For centuries Bumma (Karm-Abum-Abu Mina) was a national sanctuary and grew into a large city with costly temples a holy well, and baths. A beautiful basilica was erected by the Emperor Arcadius.
The cult was spread into other countries, perhaps by travelling merchants who honoured him as their patron. The early development of his cult remains little known. A first healing was a crippled youth, who slept at the grave of Menas and became cured. The sanctuary was neglected and ultimately forgotten. During 1905 Mgr C.M. Kaufmann of Frankfort led an expedition into Egypt which made excavations at Bumma. He found in a vast field of ruins, the grave, the well and thermae, the basilica, the monastery, numerous inscriptions on the walls imploring aid through the intercession of the saint, and thousands of little water pitchers and oil lamps. The rich finds are partly in the Museum of Alexandria and Cairo, and partly in Frankfort and Berlin. The monsignor published an official report of his expedition in 1908, "La découverte des Sanctuaires de Menas dans le désert de Mareotis". His feast is celebrated on 11 November.
Several saints of the name Menas were highly honoured in the ancient Church about whose identity or diversity much dispute is raised. Delahaye (Anal. Boll., XXIX, 117) comes to the conclusion that Menas of Mareotis, Menas of Cotyaes, and Menas of Constantinople, surnamed Kallikelados, are one and the same person, that he was an Egyptian and suffered martyrdom in his native place, that a basilica was built over his grave which became one of the great sanctuaries of Christendom, that churches were built in his honour at Cotyaeus and Constaninople, and gave rise to local legends.