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I CANNOT FULLY UNDERSTAND THE COPTIC ICON OF SAINT ERIPSIMA

October 12, 2017

Eripsima

Eripsima (also, Eripseme, Hripsime, Rhipsime, Ripseme and Arsema) is a saint martyr venerated in the Coptic Church as in the Catholic and Eastern Churches. She was from Rome and was executed in Armenia by the Armenian ruler, Tridates III (287 – c.330), who himself converted to Christianity on her influence and that of the Armenian saint, Gregory the Illuminator, and who made Armenia Christian. She was murdered together with her friends the nuns, including Saint Gaiana. Her memory is kept in the Coptic Synaxarium in three places:

  1. On 29th of Tut: The memory of St. Eripsima’s martyrdom with her friends, the other nuns. In this part we know that, after the nuns’ flight to Armenia, they lived in a garden in a wine (or oil) press, and they lived on the income of selling glass vessels that one of the nuns made.
  2. On 19th Tut: The memory of Gregory the Illuminator, the famous Armenian saint.
  3. 15th Kiahk: The memory of the reposing of Gregory the Illuminator.

When these saints celebrated by Armenia became known to Egypt, I don’t know. I suspect it was sometimes in the second half of the Fatimid Dynasty, in the 12th or 13th century when the Armenians came to Egypt with the Armenian vizier Badr al-Jamal (1015 – 1094).

There is a neo-icon by a Coptic iconographer, Y. Nasief, (dated 2001), which I have put up above. It is a beautiful icon that applies shadows more than one would normally find in modern Coptic icons. The vessels shown, presumably made of glass, are beautifully coloured and designed. The plants shown bear flowers rather than fruits. But, I cannot understand the purpose of the doves in the picture; neither do I understand the thing which Erispima holds in her right hand. Coptic icons use symbolism to help showing the identity of the figures painted: the vessels and the trees are understandable symbols, but the doves and the thing which is in Eripsima’s right hand, are, however, not clear to me.

 

 

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