Saint Herai

SAINT HERAI

A fourth-century virgin martyr in Egypt (feast day: 14 Tubah); she is briefly mentioned also in the calendar (5 and 23 September). The legendary of Herai survives in a single manuscript (Egyptian Museum, Turin, cat. 63000, III. 65-72), which is now incomplete. The missing portions can be reconstructed from the brief summary in the Copto-Arabic SYNAXARION (“Theban” redaction; cf. Coquin, 1978).

Herai, we are told, was an outstandingly beautiful twelve-year- old virgin, arrested as a Christian along with a group of other virgins, while they were going to draw water in their native village of Tammah in Middle Egypt. Herai foresaw that she would soon be a martyr and made a long farewell speech to her companions.

They were all taken by boat to Antinoopolis and brought before the prefect Culcianus, who was struck by Herai’s beauty and desired to save her by having her offer a sacrifice. Culcianus was also struck by the fact—interesting for us in the framework of the legend—that Herai understood Greek.

In accordance with the usual structure of these Passions, there follows a scene of altercation between Culcianus and Herai, interspersed with threats of torture. There is also a intervention, just before the execution of Herai, which concludes the Coptic text.

The legend of Herai must have been known locally in and around Tammah, since it was inserted into the Synaxarion of Upper Egypt but not in that of Lower Egypt (cf. Coquin, 1978), which eventually prevailed. Furthermore, as far as can be judged from the surviving text, it does not belong to one of the major hagiographical CYCLES, although the figure of Culcianus is well known from other Passions.

It is possible, however, that the of Herai may be the basis for the later Passion of the TER AND ERAI, composed as part of the cycle of BASILIDES the General. Herai is mentioned in this latter as a martyr venerated in an important shrine at Tammah, to which the “second” Erai made a pilgrimage.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Baumeister, T. Martyr Invictus. Der Märtyrer als Sinnbild der Erlösung in der Legende und im Kult der frühen koptischen Kirche, p. 103. Münster, 1972.
  • Coquin, R.-G. “Le Synaxaire des Coptes. Un Nouveau témoin de la recension de Haute-Egypte.” Analecta Bollandiana 96 (1978):351-65.
  • Rossi, F. I Papiri copti del Museo Egizio di Torino, 2 vols. Turin, 1887-1892.

TITO ORLANDI