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February 18, 2016


The above painting is titled guarigione di anania – that is The Healing of Anianus. It is dated to the second half of the 15th century, and was made by the Venice-based Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Battista Cima (c. 1459 – c. 1517), who is also called Cima da Conegliano. It is kept at Kept at the Berlin art museum, Gemäldegalerie.[1]

The ‘healing of Anianus’ refers to the miraculous healing of the Egyptian cobbler Anianus by Saint Mark the Evangelist in Alexandria around 62 AD. Saint Mark is regarded as the first patriarch of the Church of Alexandria, and Anianus, who was ordained bishop by St. Mark, became the second patriarch (62 – 83 AD) on the Alexandrian ecclesiastical throne.

The History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria tells us about the healing of Anianus. After the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ into heaven, the apostles allotted the countries of the known world among themselves for evangelisation. And the province of Egypt, with its Alexandria, the capital, fell to the lot of Mark. Returning from Rome, St. Mark went first to Pentapolis in eastern Libya, and from there, he was directed by the Holy Ghost to go to Alexandria. The story of his meeting Anianus, his healing and his conversion runs thus:

So Mark journeyed to the city of Alexandria; and when he entered in at the gate, the strap of his shoe broke. And when he saw this, he thought: “Now I know that the Lord has made my way easy.” Then he turned, and saw a cobbler there, and went to him and gave him the shoe that he might mend it. And when the cobbler received it, and took the awl to work upon it, the awl pierced his hand. So he said: “Heis ho Theos”; the interpretation of which is, “God is One”. And. when the holy Mark heard him mention the name of God, he rejoiced greatly, and turned his face to the East and said: “O my Lord Jesus, it is thou that makest my road easy in every place”. Then he spat on the ground and took from it clay, and put it on the place where the awl had pierced the cobbler’s hand, saying: “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, the One living and eternal God, may the hand of this man be healed at this moment, that thy holy name may be glorified”. Then his hand at once became whole. The holy Mark said to him: “If thou knowest that God is one, why dost thou serve these many gods?” The cobbler answered him: “We mention God with our mouths, but that is all; for we know not who he is”. And the cobbler remained astonished at the power of God which descended upon the holy Mark, and said to him: “I pray thee, O man of God, to come to the dwelling of thy servant, to rest and eat bread, for I find that to-day thou hast conferred a benefit upon me”. Then the holy Mark replied with joy: “May the Lord give thee the bread of life in heaven!” And he went with him to his house. And when he entered his dwelling, he said: “May the blessing of God be in this house!” and he uttered a prayer. After they had eaten, the cobbler said to him: “O my father, I beg thee to make known to me who thou art that hast worked this great miracle”. Then the saint answered him: “I serve Jesus Christ, the Son of the ever living God”. The cobbler exclaimed: “I would that I could see him”. The holy Mark said to him: “I will cause thee to behold him”. Then he began to teach him the gospel of good tidings, and the doctrine of the glory and power and dominion which belong to God from the beginning, and exhorted him with many exhortations and instructions, of which his history bears witness, and ended by saying to him: “The Lord Christ in the last times became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and came into the world, and saved us from our sins”. And he explained to him what the prophets prophesied of him, passage by passage. Then the cobbler said to him: “I have never heard at all of these books which thou speakest of; but the books of the Greek philosophers are what men teach their children here, and so do the Egyptians”. So the holy Mark said to him: “The wisdom of the philosophers of this world is vanity before God”. Then when the cobbler had heard wisdom and the words of the Scriptures from the holy Mark, together with the great miracle which he had seen him work upon his hand, his heart inclined towards him, and he believed in the Lord, and was baptized, he and all the people of his house, and all his neighbours. And his name was Annianus.[2]

Giovanni Battista Cima in his guarigione di anania depicts the miraculous story of the healing of Anianus by Mark. The painting is interesting. However, Cima da Conegliano fails on two counts: first, the architecture of the buildings does not reflect first-century Greco-Roman architecture of Alexandria- it looks rather Italian and Venetian; second, the artist puts on the subjects of the painting Arab and Mamluk costumes and not the attire one would expect from people who lived in Alexandria before the Arab invasion of Egypt in the 7th-century.





[1] It is made of medium tempera on poplar wood, and of the dimensions: 172 cm (67.7 in) in height and 135 cm (53.1 in) in width.

[2] Severus of Al’Ashmunein (Hermopolis), History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria (1907) Part 1: St. Mark – Theonas (300 AD). Arabic text edited, translated, and annotated by B. Evetts. Patrologia Orientalis I pp. 142-144.


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