Posts Tagged ‘Yale’

A Coptic Funeral Inscription from Medieval Nubia

May 4, 2013

One of the great medieval African civilisations was Christian Nubia. Centred on the thin strip of land running for the first to the sixth cataract of the Nile in what is now the Sudan, the Nubians possessed a written language from the sixth century AD. In 550 a local king, Eirpanome, appears to have converted the pagan temple at Dendur into a church. Christian Nubia survived until the sixteenth century, when the kingdom of Alwa declined following the conquest of Soba by the Muslim kingdom of Fung.

Between 1961 and 1963 the area around Arminna was excavated by the Universities of Pennsylvania and Yale as part of UNESCO’s campaign to save the ancient monuments in the region. The archaeologists uncovered the remains of the medieval town and a church. This church contained several inscriptions, including one in Greek and another in Coptic, the language of the Egyptian Christian church. The Greek inscription commemorated a person called Marieo. Its first 19 lines were the Greek Orthodox prayer for the dead, which is still used today. It read:

‘God of spirits and all flesh, You who have trod under death and have rendered ineffectual the devil, and have given life to Your world, rest the soul of Your departed servant (named) in a place of verdure, in a place of refreshment; therein grief, pain, and mourning have fled. Pardon every sin done by him in word, or deed, or thought, since You are a good God and love mankind, because there is no man who will live and will not sin. For You alone are outside sin, Your justice is justice forever, and Your word is truth, because You are the resurrection, the life, and the repose of Your departed servant (name), Christ our God, and to you we send up glory with Your everlasting Father and all-holy and good and life-giving Sppirit, now and always and forever. Amen’ Above the inscription, running from left to right, were a cross, an alpha and omega, and the sign of the fish.

The coptic inscription was situated inside the church’s apse. It had been set up by the parents of a woman named Maria. The inscription reads:

‘According to the statement which the Creator spoke, “Adam thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt (lit. she will) again return,” such was the way in which the blessed Maria went to rest, who was the daughter of Ptoou and the daughter of Mariam in the month of Hathor in the year (of the martyrs) 637. Her years were 39. The good god will give her rest in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob beneath the treat of life, which is in the paradise of joy with all his saints, who cried out, “Amen, so be it, Amen”‘.

These two inscriptions show the contacts medieval Christian Nubia had with the other Christian churches, and the touching concern its citizens felt to raise monuments to their deceased relatives.

Sources

Niall Finneran, The Archaeology of Christianity in Africa (Brimscombe Port: Tempus 2002)

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Philadelphia: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ The University Museum of of the University of Pennsylvania 1967).

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