American University of Beirut

Saint Menas flasks


​​Saint Menas flasks were mass-produced during the early years of Christianity and sold to pilgrims visiting a venerated site near Alexandria in Egypt associated with the Coptic saint Menas.  The flasks contained sacred oil from lamps around the saint’s shrine or water from a nearby spring, which was believed to have healing properties. Examples have been found around the Mediterranean basin, as well as France, Germany, England, Sudan and Eritrea.  

​Menas had been a solider in the Roman army who was executed in the year 296 for refusing to recant his Christian faith. Legend has it that his remains, which could not be consumed by fire, were loaded onto a pair of camels by Pope Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 298-373) to be taken to their final resting place. The camels stopped at near a spring at the end of Lake Mariout and refused to move any further, so Saint Menas’ body was buried there and it became a pilgrimage site. When Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire, one account says the Emperor Constantine sent his sick daughter to the site and ordered a church to be built when she came home cured. It is just one of many stories of Saint Menas’ miracles of healing and protecting the faithful.
These terracotta pilgrim’s bottles depict St. Menas in supplication, arms outstretched in a gesture of prayer and a camel on either side.

St. Menas pilgrim bottle (Inv.# 3 - both sides)
Byzantine Period (5th – 7th c. AD).

St. Menas pilgrim bottle (Inv.#632 - both sides)​​​
Byzantine Period (5th – 7th c. AD).​

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