Very little is known about this saint. It is plausible that the monastery at Saqqara had been placed under the patronage of a Jeremiah, to whom a particular holiness was attributed, whether or not he was its first superior. The chronicle of the bishop JOHN OF NIKIOU seems to speak of him, which makes him a contemporary of the emperor Anastasius, the dates of whose reign we know precisely (491-518).
Before becoming emperor, Anastasius is said to have been banished by the emperor ZENO (474-491), no doubt for his MONOPHYSITE opinions. John of Nikiou’s text appears fairly certain, for he mentions the island of Saint Herai and indicates that it was at Memphis. He reports that Anastasius visited Saint Jeremiah and built a church dedicated to Saint Herai. It is curious that John of Nikiou calls Saint Jeremiah “of Alexandria”; did he thus wish to show his place of birth or the place of his monastery? He seems to say that his monastery was near Memphis. In any case, his evidence assures us of the period when Jeremiah lived, the end of the fifth century and the beginning of the sixth.
The inscriptions found at Saqqara—in the absence of a Coptic life or a summary in Arabic in the SYNAXARION—supply little information. We learn that the anniversary of his birth was celebrated on 4 Hatur, and that the day on which he was tonsured—a day commemorated—was the first of Bashans. He was ordained a priest in the month of Ba’unah, and he died on 22 Tubah. In each case the year is not indicated. The last date appears to have been commemorated. Particular veneration was paid to the cell that he had occupied as the place where he had prayed for the entire world.
Two inscriptions seem to allude to a persecution, but given that these texts are not dated, we cannot know whether these events were contemporary with the saint. The whole, at least, shows that the veneration of the monks toward Saint Jeremiah was great, by reason of the frequency of the invocations, considering that his name is often invoked immediately after those of the three divine Persons.
The excavations at Saqqara have revealed a fresco representing Jeremiah, but this is perhaps only a painting indicating how the monks of the monastery imagined their saint, rather than a true portrait; J. E. Quibell reproduces a watercolor (1908, Vol. 2, pl. 60).
[See also: Christian Subjects in Coptic Art.]
- Amélineau, E. La Géographie de l’Egypte a l’époque copte. Paris, 1893.
- Charles, R. H. The Chronicle of John, Coptic Bishop of Nikiu. Text and Translation Society 3. London, 1916. Repr. Amsterdam, 1981. Trans. from Zotenberg’s Ethiopic text.
- Quibell, J. E. Excavations at Saqqara, Vol. 2. Cairo, 1908.
- Reymond, E. A. E., and J. W. B. Barns. Four Martyrdoms from the Pierpont Morgan Coptic Codices. Oxford, 1973.
- Thompson, H., ed. The Coptic Inscriptions. Text in Excavations at Saqqara [III], 1907-1908, [IV], 1908-1909, 1909-1910. Cairo, 1909-1913.
- Zotenberg, H. Chronique de Jean évêque de Nikiou, pp. 125-605.
- Notice et extraits des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque nationale 24. Paris, 1883.