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Epiphany Tanks - Coptic Wiki


Relatively large basins, measuring 8¼ x 9¾ feet (2.4 x 3.0 m) in the church of Saint Mercurius at the monastery of DAYR ABU SAYFAYN and 5½ x 8½ feet (1.7 x 2.6 m) in the church of Saint Sergius. As a rule they are rectangular and may be 4½ feet (1.4 m) deep, as in Saint Sergius. Epiphany tanks are particularly to be found in the medieval churches of Cairo. Down to the beginning of modern times, they were used for the ceremonies of the feast of Epiphany, 11 Tubah. The tanks were filled to the brim with water, and anyone who wished could plunge in. Laqlaq (1235-1243) prohibited the visiting of a public bath on the same day. For convenience in climbing out, several steps were placed at the corners.

Originally the feast took place by night on the banks of the Nile. Since this was associated with much noise and disturbance, and probably attracted too many Muslims, it had to be transferred within the churches under AL-HAKIM (996-1021). In accordance with the importance of the Epiphany feast, the Epiphany tank is placed in the vicinity of the entrance, usually in the middle of the narthex. In the church of Shinudah of Dayr Abu Sayfayn in Cairo, it is located in a side room in the southern section of that church since that had served in the intervening period as an entrance chamber. An unusual case is the small church of Bani Majda (south of Manfalut) where the Epiphany tank is located in a side room behind the sanctuary.

  • Burmester, O. H. E. The Egyptian or Coptic Church, pp. 250ff. Cairo, 1967.
  • Butler, A. J. The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt, Vol. 2, pp. 346ff. London, 1970. Reprint of 1884 edition.
  • Vansleb, J. M. Nouvelle relation forme de d’un voyage fait en en 1672 et 1673. Paris, 1677.