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December 11, 2017




December 10, 2017


Guardian Angel, using the Byzantine art of iconography[1]

In a previous article, I talked about the belief of the Copts in a guardian, personal angel who accompanies the individual all his life from birth to death; and on that occasion I used evidence from Saint Anthony the Great no less, but it seemed like it was the only occasion in Coptic literature in which the Guardian Angel is mentioned.

Looking for other sources for the belief in the Guardian Angel, I subsequently found much evidence. In the Life of Onnophrios, the Anchorite, by Apa Papnoute (Paphnutius), which is told in a Sahidic Coptic text published, with English translation by Budge in his Coptic Martyrdoms,[2] we are told how Onnophrios (Un-Nefer, or ‘Beautiful Being’) had been living a coenobitic life in the Thebaid before he moved down to live in the monastic community of the Scete. One day, the thought of leaving the coenobitic life to become an anchorite in the inner desert, living a life of, prayer, fasting and suffering in the wilderness, came into his mind; and, consequently, “a great ecstasy seized me, and I became like those whose minds are snatched away into another world. And I rose up and took a few bread cakes to eat whilst journeying to the place where God should enable me to reach.”

The place which God enabled him to reach was a hut which lied over four days walk into the inner desert. In his journeying to that destination, we are told that the Guardian Angel of Saint Onnophrios guided him. As Onnophrios left the Scete monastery, he looked and saw a being of light before him, and he was afraid, and thought that he would be turned back. But that being, seeing that Onnophrios was afraid, was quick to reassure him, saying:

“Fear not, for I am thy angel who dwelleth with thee, and who has been with thee from thy childhood.”

Here we have another evidence of the belief of early Copts in the concept and existence of the Guardian Angel. In the previous article on the subject, I mentioned the lack of artistic evidence, in Coptic icons and murals, of the Guardian Angel; but the absence of evidence does not always prove the non-existence of it. I suspect that one day we will find evidence of the Guardian Angel in a Coptic piece of art.

Considering that the concept of the personal Guardian Angel is biblical,[3] it is hardly surprising that the Copts did believe in the concept like other Christians of old churches. It is a shame that we don’t hear much about the Guardian Angel in the teaching of the Coptic Church or find Coptic art interested in the subject. There is a huge potential for the development of a beautiful art if Coptic artists embraced the concept of the Guardian Angel.


[1] By Monastery Icons.

[2] Coptic Martyrdoms etc, In Dialect of Upper Egypt, E. A. Wallis Budge (London, 1914).

[3] See: Matthew 18:10, Acts 12:1-10, Psalm 91:11.


December 8, 2017

I have spoken about the tunic in several articles, which the reader can access, here and here and here. Tunics were worn in Egypt in the first millennium of the Christian era. Tunics were not worn in Ancient Egypt but the Copts took it from the Greeks and Romans; however, they were made Egyptian by the fact that it was in Egypt that the best of tunics were produced. The Copts produced them in large numbers, and the inhabitants of the Roman Empire and Byzantium wore the Coptic product, which was unsurpassed in beauty and decoration. Our ancestors of that age, including saints and martyrs, all wore tunics. The tunic, though originally foreign, became a national dress that was embraced freely.

The word ‘tunic’ in English language derived from the Latin ‘tunica’, possibly through the medium of Old French which calls it ‘tunique’. But in Egypt the word used for tunic was taken from the Greek ‘χιτών’, which is pronounced ‘chiton’ or ‘chitwn’.

The Copts used χιτών, pronounced ‘chitwn’, to mean tunic.


December 7, 2017


Figure 1: Saint Menas ivory in the so-called Grado Chair

In a previous article, ‘The Coptic Ivory Pyxis of Saint Menas’, I spoke about the looks and attire of Saint Menas shown in one of the scenes of that beautiful pyxis. The pyxis is dated to the sixth century. It represents the earliest fine image of Saint Menas. Saint Menas is represented as a young man, wearing a Coptic tunic, a lacerna cloak and a calcei boots. The last two items of his attire represent his profession as a general in the Roman army before he left the army in AD 303 in protest of the edict of persecution by Emperor Diocletian.

As the lacerna which Saint Menas is depicted in the image wearing covers his trunk on the front and back, his rich Coptic tunic is not depicted in detail. Fortunately, the ivory of Saint Menas in the so-called Grado Chair, which is kept in Milan but originally from Alexandria, and dated to the seventh century, gives us more detail of Saint Menas’ beautiful tunic.


Tunics were the national dress of the Copts in the first millennium of our era for men, women and children. Thanks to the change in our tradition of how to deal with the bodies of our dead with the advance of Christianity, and from the 3rd century, with the abandoning of mummification and the burial of bodies in full garments, we now have hundreds of tunics excavated from Coptic necropolises in Akhmim, Ashmunein and elsewhere that were retained in good shape due to the dry conditions of Egypt, and now scattered across Europe and America in their museums. Coptic tunics were made in linen from the cellulose fibres in the stalks of the flax plant (linum usitatissimum) that was grown in Egypt. Linen was worn by Egyptians from the days of Predynastic Egypt; and was the right fabric to wear in hot climates, like Egypt, as it provides remarkable coolness and freshness to the body. Wool did not become a medium from which tunics were made in Egypt until after the 5th century. When talking about tunics of the period of the Great Persecution (284 – 311), or the periods preceding it, one should talk about linen tunics, not wool. Later on, tunics were made of linen, wool or a combination of the two. Copts continued to produce and wear tunics until after the Arab occupation in the 7th century; however, the quality of tunics gradually deteriorated; and, by the 11th century, the Arab garments, mainly jalabiyas, took over, and the Copts abandoned their national beautiful attire to wear Arab garb. And the ugliness of jalabiyas was made even worse by the dark and plain colours imposed on the Copts by Muslim authorities to make them stand out for discrimination and public insults and humiliation.

Tunics were made in Coptic looms, in small workshops, usually family-run, across Egypt. The garment is made as a whole in one piece – and not from different pieces of fabric[1] – from sleeve to sleeve, leaving a horizontal slit for the neck-opening.[2] For the production of such tunics, the Copts needed wide looms. The Coptic man tunic (see Fig. 2), for instance, which is kept at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, dated to AD 670-870, measures  131 cm in height and 209 cm in width when the sleeves are included, and 124 cm when the sleeves are excluded. Edges of the produced flat piece of fabric at what will become the bottom and cuffs of the tunic are tightly woven to prevent them from unravelling. The piece is then folded over the shoulders and sewn together along the sides. The sleeves were either short or narrow and long extending to the wrists.


Figure 2: Coptic tunic kept at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, dated to 670-870 AD. Made of red wool and tapestry-woven ornaments. Dimensions: Height: 131 cm, Width: 209 cm including sleeves, Width: 124 cm excluding sleeves. The tunic shows signs of an after-5th century period (wool; made of several parts and not as one piece; neck cut).


Figure 3: Coptic tunic kept at Victoria and Albert Museum in London, dated to 600-800 AD. From Akhmim necropolis. Made of woven linen, with tapestry-woven woollen decoration. Dimensions: Height: 120 cm, Width: 104 cm. This tunic also shows signs of a late period (made of two pieces; neck style).


Figure 4: Fragment (Hanging), from Egypt, 5th/6th century, kept at the art Institute, Chicago. Made of linen and wool, plain weave with weft uncut pile and embroidered linen pile formed by variations of back and stem stitches; having dimension of 136.5 x 88.3 cm. The figure wears blue woollen tunic with yellowish decorations.

Men wore their tunics short reaching usually to their knees, while women had their tunics long dropping to their heels. They wore with the tunic a belt to hold the folds of the huge garment in place. The belts were usually woven but sometimes braided or knitted.

The basic linen tunic had the natural white colour of linen and was rarely dyed. Colour, however, was brought in by adding decorations to the garment. By weaving[3] on the loom coloured threads as the weft[4] into the warp[5] of the tunic, the Copts produced beautiful patterns:

  • Clavi (sing. clavus): these are two narrow vertical bands/stripes that are placed across the shoulders, one from each side, usually from the edge of the neck slit, and the run down the shoulders at the front and back; and they usually end at a small leaf, heart or a circle.
  • Orbiculi (sing. orbiculus): these are circular or oval decorations that are woven at the shoulders and the lower part of the tunic, front and back, at knee height.[6]

Other woven decorations include stripes woven on the sleeves, the lower edge of the tunic and the neck. Several motives are used in these decorations: Christian symbols (crosses, angels, saints, etc.); humans (dancers, knights, children, etc.); animals (birds, fish, lions, rabbits, etc.); vegetation (leaves, plants, flowers, etc.); and different geometric motives. Various colours were employed in these decorations: red, blue, green, orange, purple, etc. Dyes were obtained from plants (rubia, idigo, saffron, woad, etc.), sea shells (the Tyrian or royal purple) and from some insects.

The tunic is usually worn over a simple undergarment; but the tunic often formed a sophisticated garment in which the Copts showed their artistic skills; and the greater the decoration of the tunic the higher the social position of its wearer.

Everywhere in the Roman and Byzantine Empires people wore tunics manufactured by the Copts; and art of that period often shows us men and women wearing some of these beautiful garments.


The tunic of Saint Menas in the ivory of the so-called Grado Chair above represents one of the most beautiful and rich representations of the Coptic tunics of those times. Saint Menas wears a linen, long-sleeved, a bit long tunic that is richly decorated, pointing to the social position of the saint as a son of nobles and himself a general in the Roman army (which his calcei boots and lacerna cloak show). The rich decoration, made of criss-cross geometric pattern, include clavi, orbiculi and stripes along the lower edge of the tunic. The tunic, which reaches to the calves of the saint’s legs is pulled up on the sides and made loose over the belt, which makes the tunic appear shorter on the sides.

Coptic artists and producers who create works or art and cinematic productions need to study the costumes of that period very well, and use that knowledge in their productions.


[1] Only from the 5th century that tunics started to be made from two or three pieces.

[2] In later tunics, the neck-opening was shaped and not just a horizontal slit.

[3] At a later stage, decoration were sewed in rather than woven into the tunic fabric.

[4] The horizontal threads on the loom that are woven from side to side, interlacing through the warp in a woven fabric.

[5] The vertical threats on a loom that run up and down, and over and under which the horizontal threats (the weft) are passed to make cloth.

[6] From the 5th century, square decorations started to make their way; and these are called tabulae.


November 26, 2017

A pyxis (p. pyxes) is a Latin word that means small box or casket. Pyxes were used in the Greek, Roman and Byzantine times to hold medicines, incense, cosmetics, etc.; and they were often decorated on the outside. The pyxis I would like to talk about here is a special pyxis, but it is a shame that the Copts knew little about it. It is a pyxis that is held at the British Museum (G41/dc13) and shows the martyrdom of Saint Menas (Mina). It goes back to the sixth century and is extraordinary in its composition and portrayal of the figure of the saint. It was made in Alexandria but somehow found its way into Europe. It was discovered in a chapel in Rome dedicated to St Menas located in the Church of St Pauls-Outside-the-Walls, and obtained by the British Museum in 1879. A lot religiously, historically and socially can be read into this pyxis. It is with the intention of making this Pyxis of Saint Menas familiar to Copts, particularly Coptic artists, that I write this article; and I hope that they depict the artistic work carved in this pyxis in their art.


Figure 1: The first main scene (Saint Menas praying), showing St Menas standing beneath an arch supported by two spiralled columns, representing his sanctuary in Abu Mina in the desert of Mareotis.  St. Menas stands with hands extended out in the traditional Coptic, orans position of prayer.[1] He wears a short, long-sleeved tunic (dalmatic) that goes down to his knees. On his feet he wears high boots that cover the saint’s calves. These boots are called in Latin calcei (s. calceus); and are usually secured with laces.[2] Unlike Roman sandals, they cover the whole foot and are worn outside the house. Those of senior army officers were heavy-soled and hob-nailed.[3] Calcei were worn only by free men – no slave was allowed to wear them. Over the tunic, he wears a cloak decorated with a diamond-shaped tapestry sewn into the cloak.[4] The long cloak that covers the front and back of the saint down to his mid-legs is fastened over the right shoulder of the saint with buckle (called fibula). This type of cloak was called lacerna (p. lacernae) and at the time of the Roman Empire, it was worn by a general to distinguish him from all other army officers. It was worn, however, by a general outside the city only. It was also used by the Roman senators over their toga, but a senator was required to take it off at the commencement of the Senate. These lacernae were commonly dyed with the royal purple[5]. A hallo (nimbus) adorns the head of the saint. The heads of two recumbent camels flank him on each side. Two women on the saint’s right side and two men on his left side, all pilgrims, approach him, possibly singing hymns.


Figure 2: On the right side of the scene in Fig. 1, showing two women worshipers. Behind the two women is a tree. On the other side of this view, you can see Saint Menas and the angel hovering above him, a scene that belongs to the second main scene in the puxis (see Fig. 4).


Figure 3: On the left side of the scene in Fig. 1, showing two men worshipers with a basket behind them, representing some donation. The other half of this view belongs to the second main scene (see Fig. 1): an armed guard with a sword and a shield stands behind the judge passing the execution sentence on St. Menas.


Figure 4: The second main scene (martyrdom of St. Menas), showing a Roman prefect, who acts as the judge, seated as a judge upon a stool with his feet on a footstool. He has the right hand raised while the left holds a staff of authority. Before the prefect is a table covered with a tablecloth and with an inkpot on top. On the left hand side of the prefect, a court clerk (scribe) stands holding a diptych with his left hand while his right hand extends to the inkpot. In front of the prefect, St. Menas is shown falling on his left knee, crouching, and with his hands bound behind his back, and an executioner grasps the saint by the hair while brandishing a sword ready to cut his head off. St. Menas is undressed down to his underpants as he is depicted wearing only a loincloth. An angel hovers over the saint, ready to receive his holy soul in his veiled extended hands.


Figure 5: The scene in Fig. 4 moved a bit clockwise to show the martyr, his executioner, and the angel in full.


This pyxis is made of ivory, and was cut from solid ivory. Originally it had a cover, a hinge and a lock but these are lost now. The bottom base of the pyxis is also lost. It was probably originally used to keep incense or even holy relics of one of the saints. The pyxis, which is about 210 gm in weight, is 7.9 cm in height[6] and 12.2 cm in circumference (length)[7]; and, therefore, the sides of the pyxis, if the cylinder is unrolled and flattened out, will form a rectangle with a height of 7.9 cm and a length of 12.2 cm, amounting to a surface area of 96.38 cm2. This area is all carved with scenes from Saint Menas’ martyrdom, and represents the real artistic part of the pyxis.


I have described, in the captions attached to the above five figures, in much detail the images carved in this extraordinary ivory Coptic pyxis. There are basically two main scenes shown in this pyxis:

  1. The traditional scene of Saint Menas standing with his hands raised up, palms towards heavens, in the orans position of prayer.
  2. The scene of the martyrdom of Saint Menas, including his trial by the Roman prefect and then his execution.

There is a lot to learn from these lively images. The trial scene is particularly interesting and fits the descriptions we have in Coptic martyrologies. Here we have a sixth century representation of such trials. These tribunals were usually presided over by the perfect of the region, in Saint Menas’ case it must have been that of Alexandria. They were usually held in the opening in front of the public. The deliberations of such trials were meticulously recorded by a court scribe. The tribunal usually involves an attempt by the prefect to dissuade the would-be martyr from believing in Christ and showing contempt to the imperial order with promises of material inducements. The saint is asked to sacrifice to the Roman gods but the saint responds confirming his or her Christianity and showing contempt of the false gods. The prefect threatens the saint with all sorts of torture and death, and, after a few attempts to change his mind, the saint is put to death usually after some torture. It is believed that the tribunal records were later collected by Julius of Aqfahs who left us many stories of martyrdoms.[8] The depiction of last moments of Saint Menas before his execution by the sword is very expressive: the saint, naked, apart from a loincloth, and barefooted, is made to kneel on one of his knees, while the executioner pulls him from his hair and makes him crouch forward. The executioner raises his sword high up ready to strike the neck of the saint but the saint is not afraid but seems very composed with a firm, resolved and deep, faithful look.

The scene showing Saint Menas standing in the orans position portrays him as a strong, beardless, young man. Coptic sources tell us that he was executed on 15 Hatur 26 AM, which corresponds to 11 November of the year AD 308. He was then 24 years old. Saint Menas who descended from a family of governors, was made a general in the Roman army. When Diocletian issued his edict against Christianity in AS 303, Saint Menas abandoned the army in protest, and became an ascetic of five years before his martyrdom. The attire worn by Saint Menas is interesting, and says a lot of the period and his position.  He wears a short, long-sleeved tunic that goes down to his knees. He appears to have it belted round his waist but that is not very clear. Over the tunic he wears a lacerna – a decorated, purple cloak that was worn by generals in the Roman army. Because the lacerna covers the saint’s tunic, we cannot see the usual decorations one usually finds in Coptic tunics; the decorations are, however, seen in other early depictions of Saint Menas, such as the seventh century ivory of the Grado Chair.[9] On his feet are calcei high boots. This is an attire of a Roman citizen. I do think this image represents Saint Menas when he went in AD 309, five years after his isolation, to the Roman authorities to disclose his faith in Christ, and seeking martyrdom. His conscious probably pricked him as he fled from the army in AD 303, and did not declare his Christianity as many other army officers had done. It is, therefore, in the costume of a Roman general, complete with lacerna and calcei, that he approached the Roman authorities, who, according to Coptic sources, soon recognised him. The saint’s image shown in this pyxis is thought to be a copy of his original image painted in the tomb chamber in his martyrium at Abu Mina in Egypt.


If there is anything I would like to achieve by this article, in addition to honouring the memory of this great saint and wonder-maker, is to inspire Coptic artists to create new icons of Saint Menas that respect the original image of Saint Menas, and are respectful of the costumes of that age that tell a lot about the saint himself.

Somebody may try to virtually unfold the pyxis into a flat rectangle and paint the two main scenes in one, or two, flat piece of art.



[1] For the orans position, see my article: How the Copts Prayed? The Orans Position (August 26, 2017).

[2] The calcei may be low or high and are secured usually by laces. They usually have two holes at the sides through which leather thongs are passed and tied round the legs.

[3] Roman legionary soldiers and auxiliaries were issued caligae (s. caliga), which are also heavy-soled, hobnailed but were like sandals, with open areas to allow air into the feet. Both the calcei and caligae were marching boots.

[4] Called tablion.

[5] Also called, Tyrian purple, Tyrian red, imperial purple, and imperial dye. It’s a naturally extracted dye from sea snails.

[6] The perpendicular line between the two circular bases.

[7] The circumference of the circular bases.

[8] See: E. A. E. Reymond and J. W. B. Brans, Four Martyrdoms from the Pierpont Morgan Coptic Codices (Oxford, 1998); pp. 1-21.

[9] For ivories of the Grado Chair, see my article: The Beautiful Coptic Ivories of the So-Called Grado Chair (November 24, 2017).


November 25, 2017


Figure 1: The Healing of Anianus by Mark


Figure 2: The Baptism of Anianus (along with two others, probably his sons) by Mark


Figure 3: The Ordination of Anianus by Mark

Saint Anianus (or Ananius) was the first convert of Saint Mark the Evangelist when he came to Alexandria in the AD 48.[1]  Anianus was a pagan, Egyptian cobbler. When Mark entered the city, the straps of his sandals broke. He went to Anianus to mend it for him. As Anianus was fixing it, he pierced his finger with an awl. Struck by the pain, he cried in Greek, which was the common vernacular in Alexandria, “heis theos”, which means ‘God is one”. Mark healed Anianus’ hand, and Anianus invited Mark to his home for a meal. There the two conversed on matters religious, and Mark talked to Anianus about Jesus Christ. As a consequence, Anianus along with his household and many neighbours, believed; and Mark duly baptised them.

When the pagans of the city heard of the news, they became indignant and designed to kill Mark. Consequently, Mark escaped, and left Alexandria, but not before consecrating Anianus as bishop of Alexandria.[2] Saint Mark ordained also three presbyters (Milaius, Sabinus and Credo) and eleven others for other positions, mostly deacons. Saint Anianus is considered by the Coptic Church to be the second bishop of Alexandria after Saint Mark.[3]

The so-called Grado Chair, which the reader can read more about in my previous article “The Beautiful Coptic Ivories of the so-called Grado Chair,” had three of its fourteen ivories in which both Saints Mark and Anianus feature. All three are kept in Milan, Italy (at Civiche Raccolte d’Arte Applicata—Castello Sforzesco, Milan). The ivories are dedicated to show the healing of Anianus; the baptism of Anianus and his household; and the consecration of Anianus. These ivories were made in Alexandria and taken to Italy by Emperor Heraclius after his has wrestled Egypt from the Persians in AD 629. These are probably the only pieces of art from that age in which Saint Anianus is featured.

The reader can read a lot about Alexandria in these ivories; and understand many things about Saint Anianus. In the first ivory (Fig. 1), Anianus is depicted in his little workshop sitting on a stool and with a workbox in front of him. His work tools are also shown, including straight and undulating awls. The magnificent architecture of Alexandria is shown in the background. Anianus was a poor artisan, clearly shown from his small workshop and the short sleeveless tunic, probably made of cotton or linen. He wears no other garment. In the second ivory (Fig. 2), Anianus, together with two others who look like him and most probably his sons, are shown baptised by Mark in running water, and against Alexandrian backdrop of buildings. The three are naked and Mark, barefooted, is using his right hand to immerse Anianus in the water (in his left hand, he holds the Bible). In the third ivory (Fig. 3), Saint Mark ordains Anianus bishop by the laying of both of his hands. Anianus, here, wears an ecclesiastical vestment which is composed of long-sleeved garment that reaches his heels and covered with a robe.

But what struck me in the three ivories of Saint Anianus is how the artist depicted him as a sort man compared to Saint Mark. In Fig. 1, Anianus is sitting on the stools but his feet cannot reach the ground. In Fig. 2, he and his sons also look short; and again, in Fig. 3, he is shown short with his head, even if raised up, barely reaching the lower chest of Mark. The spectators, probably from Anianus’ family, are also shown short. Saint Mark is not extraordinarily tall – he is shown in the other ivories standing with other people and he is of average height (see the ivory titled: Saint Mark Preaching). The discrepancy in height between Mark and Anianus cannot, also, be due to an attempt by the artist to keep their relative position in Church depicted in size: Christ, in the ivory titled “Raising Lazarus”, for example, is shown of same height as Mary.

It seems that Saint Anianus and his household were all of short stature. There is no discrepancy in the length of legs and trunk in these ivories, so, it is unlikely that the short stature was due to any skeletal disease. It was what clinicians call familial, genetic short stature.

Does this matter? Of course it doesn’t matter that Saint Athanasius was short. It, however, makes him more realistic to us. Anyway, it is a matter which cannot be passed by without noticing by anybody who studies old art, and tries to learn much from it beyond the obvious.


[1] According to the History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church attributed to Severus of Ashmunein, which dates it to the fifteenth year after the Ascention of Christ. Eusebius of Caesarea in his History of the Church gives the year as AD 43 (the third year of the reign of Emperor Claudius).

[2] In AD 68, Saint Mark again returned to Alexandria, where he was martyred in the same year.

[3] For more, read: Stephen J. Davis, The Early Coptic Papacy, the Egyptian Church and its Leadership in Late Antiquity (Cairo, New York, 2004); pp. 10-15.


November 24, 2017

 In the museums of Europe are scattered almost fourteen carved ivory panels that originate in Alexandria in the seventh century.[1] They once formed a liturgical throne in Alexandria which is believed to have been taken to Italy by Emperor Constantine I (r. 610 – 641) when he reconquered Egypt in AD 629 after the Sassanid Persians occupied it in AD 619.  Heraclius gave it to a church in Grado, a town in Italy, in its northern-east.  Because of that, the liturgical throne came to be known as ‘Grado Chair’.[2] The ivories remained largely forgotten until the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York included some of them in its exhibition “Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition Seventh–Ninth Century” in 2012.

These Coptic ivories are extremely beautiful. Their value to the Copts and their history cannot be overestimated. There is nothing else that comes close to it. They depict scenes from the Bible, the Church of Alexandria and some of its saints, including Saint Mark, Anianus and Minas. Two of the ivories show personalities that cannot be clearly identified (number 11 and 13). There is a stress to connect the story of the Gospels, starting from the Annunciation, with the Church of Alexandria through Saint Peter and Saint Mark: here Peter dictates the Gospel to Mark, and Mark goes to Alexandria to preach. In Alexandria, Peter heals Anianus, who converts to Christianity, and consequently Mark baptises him and consecrates him as bishop of Alexandria. Saint Menas is shown as a beardless, young man standing in the orans prayer position,[3] and dressed in a Coptic tunic complete with clavi[4] and orbiculi[5]. The saint wears a thin belt round his waist and has a Roman lacerna worn in the way Roman generals used to wear it, with it being passed through in a ring over the left shoulder. The inclusion of Prophet Joel, one of the twelve minor prophets, here is strange but may be due to his prophesy: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions”[6] and its use by Saint Peter in Acts 2:15-21 in his sermon at Pentecost. The artist wanted to stress that the Spirit of God was poured out upon Alexandria.

I could identify thirteen of the fourteen (the fourteenth is only fragmentary and show St. Mark walking in Alexandria while carrying a book), and share them with my readers here without comment. The reader will realise the richness of their art, which also shows much of the civilisation of Egypt in the seventh century before the Arab occupation. I show the ivories in the following order:

  1. The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary
  2. The Nativity of Christ
  3. The Wedding at Cana
  4. The Raising of Lazarus


  1. Saint Peter Dictating the Gospel to Saint Mark
  2. Saint Mark Preaching
  3. Saint Mark Healing Anianus
  4. Saint Mark Baptising Anianus
  5. Saint Mark Consecrating Anianus


  1. Saint Menas with Flanking Camels
  2. Saint in Orans Pose


  1. The Prophet Joel
  2. Prophet with a Plague


Figure 1: Annunciation to the Virgin



Figure 2: Nativity of Christ



Figure 3: The Wedding at Cana



Figure 4: The Raising of Lazarus


Figure 5: Saint Peter Dictating the Gospel to Saint Mark



Figure 6: Saint Mark Preaching



Figure 7: Saint Mark Healing Anianus



Figure 8: Saint Mark Baptising Anianus


Figure 9: Saint Mark Consecrating Anianus


 Figure 10: Saint Menas with Flanking Camels



Figure 11: Saint in Orans Pose



 Figure 12: The Prophet Joel



Figure 13: Prophet with a Plaque


[1] For example, “Saint Mark Preaching” and “Saint Menas Flanked by Two Camels” are kept at Civiche Raccolte d’Arte Applicata—Castello Sforzesco, Milan (avori n. 2); “The Prophet Joel” at Musée du Louvre, Département des Objets d’Art, Paris (AC 864); “Saint in Orant Pose” at Musée National du Moyen Âge, Thermes et Hôtel de Cluny, Paris (Cl. 1932). These ivory panels are not large: that of “Saint in Orans Pose”, for example, is 4 1/16 x 3 1/4 x 5/16 in. (10.3 x 8.3 x 0.8 cm) in dimension.

[2] For more on the Grado Chair, see: Kurt Weitzmann, The Ivories of the So-Called Grado Chair (Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1972).

[3] For the orans position, see my article, here.

[4] Singular is ‘clavus’, coloured stripe on tunic.

[5] Singular, ‘orbiculum’, rounded pattern sewn on tunics.

[6] Joel 2:28.

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