Relics & Reliquaries

Pilgrim Flask of St. Menas

The Cleveland Museum of Art, gift of Bruce Ferrini in memory of Robert P. Bergman

Pilgrim Flask of St. Menas

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The widespread popularity of the cult of St. Menas is attested by the hundreds of pilgrim flasks from his shrine that have been found throughout the Mediterranean region. The flasks most likely contained holy oil that was kept in a large pot underneath the altar and distributed to the faithful. This oil, considered holy because of its proximity to the saint's grave, allowed pilgrims to carry away the healing power of the saint. Molds for mass-producing these flasks have been found at the site of the shrine. Pilgrim flasks from this shrine depict St. Menas with his arms raised in prayer, flanked by kneeling camels. The camels are drawn from the legend of the saint's burial, but, as many pilgrims to the desert shrine might have traveled with camels, the picture would perhaps remind pilgrims of their own journey. It is also possible that a similar cult image of some sort was kept at the shrine.

Kathryn B. Gerry