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Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity

Ed. by Brennecke, Hanns Christof / Drecoll, Volker Henning / Heil, Uta / Markschies, Christoph

Together with Elm, Susanna / Gemeinhardt, Peter / Meier, Mischa / Perrone, Lorenzo / Pollmann, Karla / Riedweg, Christoph / Schöllgen, Georg / Williams, Rowan / Wischmeyer, Wolfgang

CiteScore 2018: 0.21

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.130
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.563

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Volume 20, Issue 3


The Healing Shrines of St. Phoibammon: Evidence of Cult Activity in Coptic Legal Documents

Gesa Schenke
  • Corresponding author
  • University of Oxford—Faculty of History, George Street Oxford OX1 2RL, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
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Published Online: 2016-12-16 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/zac-2016-0044


A group of 8th century Coptic child donation documents addressed to the monastery of Apa Phoibammon on the mountain of Jeme in Upper Egypt has been the subject of much discussion. The exclusively male children donated by their parents have always been understood as gifts to the monastery itself, a place where they were, however, not intended to grow up as monks, but to remain as lifelong servants. The reason stated for these donations were miracle healings granted by Apa Phoibammon, the patron saint of that monastery, in his local healing shrine. Such donations of cured former patients are a common feature especially to shrines of healing saints as demonstrated by their frequent descriptions in miracle stories circulating widely in the early Arab period. Juxtaposing phrases used in these Coptic legal texts with those from miracle stories of famous Egyptian healing saints, such as Coluthus, Menas, and Phoibammon himself, can demonstrate the impact hagiography had on daily experience and vice versa. The documentary evidence from Jeme thus forms the missing link between hagiography and reality as it emphasizes the practicalities involved when people were donated as living testimonies of a saint’s miraculous healing power. Due to the desire to legalize such donations, a written contract could only have been drawn up with the saint’s legal representative, in this case the abbot of the monastery at Jeme, who ran the healing shrine of Apa Phoibammon where the donated children would serve.1

Keywords:: Coptic legal documents; hagiography; miracles; saints; donation; child donation; self-donation; Jeme; monastery; healing shrines

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Published Online: 2016-12-16

Published in Print: 2016-12-30

Citation Information: Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity, Volume 20, Issue 3, Pages 496–523, ISSN (Online) 1612-961X, ISSN (Print) 0949-9571, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/zac-2016-0044.

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