MENAS THE MIRACLE MAKER, SAINT
The Coptic church commemorates Saint Menas on 15 Hatur. On his person, life, and death we have extensive sources in Greek, Coptic, Old Nubian, Ethiopic, Latin, Syriac, and Armenian. Many of these texts have not yet been published. The sources may be subdivided into martyrdom, Synaxarion, Encomium, miracle collections, and other categories (Krause, 1978, pp. 1125-28). Their statements are contradictory. Basically, the Encomium expands the statements of the martyrdom and contradicts other statements.
Menas was an Egyptian— according to the Encomium, a well-born Egyptian from Nikiou. Statements that he came from Nepaiat or from south of Mareotis and that he had been a camel driver are refuted. According to the martyrdom and the Encomium, he was a soldier stationed in Phrygia. After he had abandoned his unit and withdrawn into the wilderness, he confessed his Christian faith and on 15 Hatur 296 suffered a martyr’s death.
According to the Encomium, Menas’s regiment was transferred to Egypt for the protection of Mareotis, and his body taken along as a relic. He affected a peaceful crossing, and by fire drove away sea monsters with long necks. On the march to Mareotis the body was laid upon a camel. When the camel, and also other camels on which the body was laid, refused to stand up, this was interpreted as the wish of the martyr to be laid to rest at Mareotis, and there he was buried.
The beginning of the cult of Menas is variously related. According to the Encomium, the first healing was of a youth, crippled from birth, who slept at the grave of Menas. According to the SYNAXARION, mangy sheep smeared with a mixture of earth from the grave and water were healed, and only thereafter were people cured. According to the Encomium, a small oratory in the form of a tetra pylon was built over the grave. Other churches followed (see ABU MINA).
The contradictions in regard to the person of Menas, his sojourn in Phrygia, and his burial in Egypt; the fact that there were several martyrs by the name of Menas outside of Egypt (O’Leary, 1937, pp. 194ff.) but that no Egyptian martyr named Menas is attested from the time of DIOCLETIAN (Delehaye, 1922, p. 31); and the relationship of the martyrdom of Menas to the eulogy of BASIL THE GREAT on Gordius have raised the question of the historical Menas (Drescher, 1946). Four hypotheses can be advanced:
(1) Menas was an Egyptian martyr (Delehaye); (2) Menas was a Phrygian martyr; (3) there were two martyrs by the name of Menas, one in Egypt and one in Phrygia, and the two were confused by the hagiographers (Drescher); (4) Menas is not a historical figure at all but replaces a pagan god (Horus or perhaps a Phrygian god; Ramsay, 1918, p. 166). Advocates of this last thesis have to postulate a Christianized pagan cult, which so far they have been unable to demonstrate archaeologically. A derivation of the iconography of Menas from the representations of Horus is also not tenable (Krause, 1978, col. 1132).
[See also: Christian Subjects in Coptic Art.]
- Delehaye, H. “Les martyrs d’Egypte.” Analecta Bollandiana 40 (1922):5-154, 292-364.
- Drescher, J. Apa Mena. A Selection of Coptic Texts Relating to St. Menas. Cairo, 1946.
- Krause, M. “Karm Abu Mena.” In Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, Vol. 3, cols. 1116-58. Stuttgart, 1978. Miedema, R. De heilige Menas. Rotterdam, 1913. O’Leary, De L. The Saints of Egypt. London, 1937.
- Ramsay, W. “The Utilization of Epigraphic Copies.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 38 (1918):124-92.