Mourning In Early Christian Times

MOURNING IN EARLY CHRISTIAN TIMES

As Spiegelberg’s comparison with the Egyptian sources (pp. 32f.) has shown, the description of mourning given by Herodotus (1893, p. 118, no. 85) is both graphic and correct: “When in a house a respected inmate dies, all the female occupants smear their heads or faces with mud, leave the corpse lying in the house, and run through the town with bared breasts, smiting themselves; all the female relatives join them.

The men too smite themselves, and have their garment tied fast below the breast.” The Copts mourned their dead in the same manner. In contrast with their attitude toward MUMMIFICATION, however, theologians and monks in Egypt turned against the continuance of the old Egyptian mourning rites in the Christian period. A dictum of SHENUTE has been preserved (Mémoire de la mission, IV.27), according to which ought not to weep and mourn over faithful Christians, but over those who have died godless.

In the cenobite monasticism of the fourth and fifth centuries, the Egyptian church replaced mourning with prayers and psalm-singing, as the sources show. After the death of a monk, all the monks in the monasteries of Pachomius (Lefort, 1965, Vols. 99 and 100, pp. 87ff.) and Shenute (Leipoldt, 1903, 134) assembled round the mortal shell of the dead man, to sing psalms and to pray.

The arrangement of having the burial of nuns carried out by monks probably goes back to the observation that the women clung more than the men to the old customs. But despite all admonitions, the continued to mourn their dead. On a gravestone from ANTINOOPOLIS the dead man, a deacon, invites the visitor to the grave to mourn: “All who would weep over those who have died from among them, let them come here, to speak a lamentation” (Hall, 1905, 400). At synods, mournings were forbidden, and those who offended had the church’s ban imposed upon them (Riedel, 1900, 191).

But even these penalties could not dislodge the firmly rooted mourning of the dead. The Coptic church saw itself constrained not only to tolerate mourning but also to accept it into the funeral liturgy (Tuki, 1763, p. 499). At the beginning of this liturgy, as on the Antinoopolis gravestone, people are summoned to lamentation: “Gather you all with me, ye men skilled in speech, and let us together mourn in a great lamentation.”

There are also representations of mourning in Coptic book illustrations (Cramer, 1964, pl. 17). Even in the twentieth century, Blackman noted ancient Egyptian mourning at a Coptic funeral among fellahin in Upper Egypt. In the case of mourning, the old customs of the country won out over the prohibitions of the church.

[See also: Burial Rites; Funerary Customs.]

  • Amélineau, F. Monuments pour servir à l’histoire de l’Egypte chrétienne aux IVe, Ve siècles, Texte copte publié et traduit. Mémoires de la Mission archéologique française au Caire 4. Paris, 1888.
  • Blackman, W. The Fellahin of Upper Egypt. Their Religious, Social and Industrial Life To-day with Special Reference to Survivals from Ancient Times. London, 1927.
  • Cramer, M. Die Totenklage bei den Kopten. Mit Hinweisen auf die Totenklage im Orient überhaupt. Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, Philosophisch-historische Klasse 219,2. Vienna, 1941.
  • . Koptische Buchmalerei. Recklinghausen, 1964.
  • Hall, H. R. Coptic and Greek Texts of the Christian Period from Ostraca, Stelae, etc. in the British Museum. London, 1905. Herodotus. The of Herodotus, Vol. 2, ed. George Rawlinson. New York, 1893.
  • Krause, M. “Das Weiterleben ägyptischer Vorstellungen und Bräuche im Totenwesen.” In Das römisch- byzantinische Ägypten. Akten des internationalen Symposions 26.-30. September 1978 in Trier, ed. G. Grimm, H. Heinen, and E. Winter. Aegyptiaca Treverensia 2, pp. 85-92. Mainz, 1983. Lefort, L. T. S. Pachomii vitae sahidicae scriptae. CSCO 99 and 100 Louvain, 1965.
  • Leipoldt, J. Schenute von Atripe und die Entstehung des national ägyptischen Christentums. Leipzig, 1903.
  • Riedel, W. Die Kirchenrechtsquellen des Patriarchats Alexandrien. Leipzig, 1900. Reprinted Aalen, 1968.
  • Spiegelberg, W. Die Glaubwürdigkeit von Herodots Bericht über Ägypten im Lichte der ägyptischen Denkmäler. Orient und Antike 3. Heidelberg, 1926.
  • Tuki, R. pijwm nte ]metrefsemsi nnimuct/rion eyu nem hanjinh/bi nte nirefmwout nem hanjinhwc nem pikatameroc nabot (pijom nte tmetrefshemshi nnimysterion ethy nem hanjinhebi nte nirefmoout nem hanjinhos nem pikatameros nabot). Rome, 1763.

MARTIN KRAUSE