Even at present Nubian liturgy remains obscure. It is evident, however, that Byzantine-Greek, Coptic, and native Nubian traditions all shared in the creation of a liturgical life of richness and intensity among the Nubian Christians of the Nile Valley between 500 and 1450.
Evidence comes from two main sources. The first is the magnificent frescoes from the cathederal at FARAS, excavated in the 1960s; the second is the manuscripts that may have formed part of a cathedral library from the fortress town of QASR IBRIM. In addition, small liturgical fragments in the same style of handwriting as those from Qasr Ibrm have been found in a church at Sunnarti; these appear to be from an amphora.
The frescoes from Faras indicate an intense religious life centered on the cult of the Christ and the Virgin, the Archangel Michael, and martyrs, especially the military martyrs Mercurius and Demetrius. Apart from the frescoes themselves, graffiti cut or painted on the plaster of the wall of the nave and aisle of the cathedral bear witness to similar trends in popular piety. Typical examples are “Lord Jesus [and] Mary, guard, bless, protect, strengthen (and) help thy servant Marianne, daughter of Mariata. So be it. Amen,” and “Lord Jesus Christ [and] Michael, guard, bless, protect, strengthen [and] help thy servant . . .” (Michalowski, 1974, p. 299). An inscription by a deacon reads, “Lord Jesus Christ [and] Mary, guard, bless, protect, strengthen [and] help thy servant Joseph, the deacon, son of Mark [of the church] of Mary [in] Pachora. So be it. Amen” (ibid., pp. 298-99).
Qasr Ibrim has no surviving frescoes, but documents from the charred and torn remains of what is assumed to have been the cathedral library scattered on the floor of the great church confirm the evidence from Faras. The liturgy was sung apparently in Greek or Nubian, with some texts of the church fathers, such as John Chrysostom’s “Homily on the Four Living Beasts,” using Coptic. From insertions in some of the prayers and directions to the celebrant, it seems clear that Greek was as familiar as Nubian to the worshipers, at least until about 1100. Fragments of a eucharistic sequence that included an offertory prayer from a service book, the opening passage of an anaphora of Athanasius and the transition from the Mass of the Catechumens to the Mass of the Faithful, and a large fragment of the prayer of dismissal indicate that the Nubian liturgy was based on the liturgy of Saint Mark, although it was shorter and simpler. This suggests that the Nubians observed older forms of the liturgy, which underwent elaborations as time went on in other areas where it was used.
The fervent character of the cult of military martyrs also can be proved from the fragments of the Acta S. Mercurii and Acta S. Georgii found in the cathedral of Qasr Ibrim. These confirm the evidence from the frescoes at ‘ABDALLAH NIRQI as well as at Faras.
The liturgy of the Nubian churches would appear to have been Monophysite, using a slightly modified form of the liturgy of Saint Mark throughout the lifetime of the church there. In the eleventh century, however, the use of the Euchologion Mega indicates Melchite influence in the church of Faras. This development, associated perhaps with the episcopate of Bishop Marianos (1005-1037), whose tomb was at Qasr Ibrim and not Faras, needs further research. Otherwise, the Nubian church remained true to its Monophysite origins throughout its history.
- Frend, W. H. C. “A Fragment of the Acta S. Georgii from Nubia.” Analecta Bollandiana 100 (1982):79-86.
- . “A Eucharistic Sequence from Qasr Ibrim.” Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 30 (1987): 90-98.
- Frend, W. H. C., and I. A. Muirhead. “Greek Manuscript from the Cathedral of Qasr Ibrim. Le Muséon 89 (1976):43-49.
- Jakobielski, S. A History of the Bishopric of Pachoras on the Basis of Coptic Inscriptions, Vol. 3, Faras. Warsaw, 1972.
- Michalowski, K. Faras: Wall Paintings in the Collection of the National Museum in Warsaw. Warsaw, 1974.
- Müller, C. D. G. “Deutsche Textfunde in Nubien.” In Kunst und Geschichte Nubiens in christlicher Zeit, ed. E. Dinkler, pp. 245-59. Recklinghausen, 1970.
- Moorsel, P. van; J. Jacquet; and H. Schneider. The Central Church of Abdallah Nirqi. Leiden, 1975.
WILLIAM H. C. FREND