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December 11, 2013

Saint Mena The representation of Saint Mena in Or. MS.6805 (Fol. 10a)

Now, the reader has had the chance to read in Part 2 of this series the lovely story of the miracle of Saint Mena relayed in the British Museum Or.MS.6805, I reproduce, and talk of, here the rare representation of the saint on horseback together with the boatman who forms one of the characters of the story. I use the description by both E.A.W. Budge[1] and F. Ll. Griffith[2] in their books to help me in reading this beautiful outline drawing.

Agios Mena (Saint Mena), who is depicted with Nubian facial features, is illustrated as a young equestrian soldier with his face in profile and unbearded as is the custom in the Roman army. He rides on high, lean and decorated horse with a bell hanging round its neck, and wears a tunic, belt and military cloak that is decorated with a braided bordering. On his left shoulder is a shield while he holds in his right hand a long spear with its head turned towards the ground and not pointed at the man in the right, at the bottom of the picture. Saint Menas is bare-footed, which is different from how he is depicted in the Coptic tradition, where he wears a laced-boot.

That man was the Christian boatman of our story who did not honour his promise to the pagan, sterile woman to take her egg to the shrine of Saint Mena in Mareotis, and, instead, ate it! He is depicted, unlike Saint Mena, in full-face and is bearded. It looks like he is naked, carrying over his left arm a fringe of cloth. With his left hand, the man is grasping the left forehoof of Saint Mena’s horse as he tries to ward it off from his head.

In-between the boatman’s legs, which are parted, is a the head of a cock, which as the story says, “when the Saint took that man and kicked against his head, the egg–this one which he had eaten–suddenly became a living hen, came out from under him, stood up and immediately squawked. And Saint Mena, sitting on the horse, grasped the hen by its two wings, took it up and said: ‘For this have I come, this have I stated.’”!  The rest of the bird and the feet of the boatman are not visible since the lower edge of the leaf is damaged.

Above the head of Saint Mena are three crowns, the central one possess a surmounted cross. They represent the saint’s virginity, endurance and martyrdom as, according to an Ethiopic text translated by Budge, the saint had seen in a vision before his martyrdom:

“A voice from heaven cried out unto him, ‘Blessed art thou, Minas, for thou hast been called, and the fair beauty of thy mind hath made itself manifest from thy youth until this day. And thou shalt receive crowns incorruptible, like those of the Holy Trinity, O thou who art the firstborn of their love: one for thy virginity, and one for thy patient endurance, and one for thy martyrdom. And thy martyrdom shall be greater the martyrdoms of a multitude of martyrs, and thy name shall be honoured, and multitudes of people shall come from every part of the world, and shall take refuge in thy church which shall be built in the land of Egypt, and works of power shall be manifest, and wonderful things, and signs, and healings shall take place through thy holy body.”[3]

[1] E.A.W. Budge, Texts Relating to Saint Mena of Egypt and Canons of Nicaea in a Nubian Dialect, with Facsimile (London, 1909); p. 14.

[2] F. Ll. Griffith, The Nubian Texts of the Christian Period (Abhandlungen der Koniglich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Jahrgang, 1913); pp. 14-15.

[3] Budge’s; p. 47. The Ethiopic text is from Oriental 689, fol. 73 b ff., which Budge translated in his book.

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