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- For the Florentine saint, see Minias of Florence.
Coptic Orthodox icon of Saint Menas
|Martyr and Wonderworker|
|Died||c. 309 AD
Phrygia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey)
|Honored in||Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Oriental Orthodox Churches
Roman Catholic Church
|Major shrine||Monastery of Saint Mina, Mareotis, Egypt
Church of Saint Menas (Cairo)
|Feast||November 11 (Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches)
November 24 or 15 Hathor(Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria)
|Attributes||man with his hands cut off and his eyes torn out; man with two camels; young knight with a halberd, an anachronistic depiction of his time in the Roman army|
|Patronage||falsely accused people; peddlers; traveling merchants|
Saint Menas (also Minas, Mina, Mena, Mennas) (285 – c. 309), the Martyr and Wonder-worker, is one of the most well-known Egyptian saints in the East and the West, due to the many miracles that are attributed to his intercession and prayers. Menas was an Egyptian soldier in the Roman army, martyred because he refused to recant his Christian faith. His feast day is celebrated every year on 15 Hathor (November 24) in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and on November 11 in the West and East. Although Menas is recognized as a minor saint in the Western churches, it is considered likely by many historians that he is celebrated in these churches under the name of Saint Christopher (i.e. the "Christ-bearer"), as one of the legends associated with Menas has him, like Christopher, carrying the Christ-Child.
Origin of his name
Mēna was his original name, according to the story his mother called him "Mēna" because she heard voice saying amēn. Minas [Μηνας] is how he is known in Greek, while in Armenian and Arabic he is known as "Mīna" [مينا].
Life and Martyrdom
There are many sources written in different languages (Greek, Coptic, Old Nubian, Ethiopic, Latin, Syriac, Armenian) relating to Saint Menas and some of the information seems contradictory. Menas was born in Egypt in 285 A.D., in the city of Niceous, which lies in the vicinity of Memphis. His parents were ascetic Christians but did not have any children for a long time. His father's name was Eudoxios and his mother's name was Euphemia. On the feast of the Virgin Mary, Euphemia was praying in front of an icon of Saint Mary with tears that God may give her a blessed son. A sound came from the icon saying "Amen". A few months later, Euphemia gave birth to a boy and named him Menas.
Eudoxios, a ruler of one of the administrative divisions of Egypt, died when Menas was fourteen years old. At the age of fifteen Menas joined the Roman army, and was given a high rank due to his father's reputation. Most sources state that he served in Cotyaeus in Phrygia, although some says his appointment was in Algeria. Three years later he left the army longing to devote his whole life to Christ. He headed towards the desert to live a different kind of life.
After spending five years as a hermit, Menas saw in a revelation the angels crowning the martyrs with glamorous crowns, and longed to join those martyrs. While he was thinking about it, he heard a voice saying: "Blessed are you Menas because you have been called to the pious life from your childhood. You shall be granted three immortal crowns; one for your celibacy, another for your asceticism, and a third for your martyrdom." Menas subsequently hurried to the ruler, declaring his Christian faith. His endless sufferings and the tortures that he went through, have attracted many of the pagans, not only to Christianity, but also to martyrdom.
The soldiers who executed Menas set his body to fire for three days but the body remained unharmed. Menas' sister then bribed the soldiers and managed to carry the body away. She embarked on a ship heading to Alexandria, where she placed the saint's body in a church.
When the time of persecution ended, during the papacy of Pope Athanasius of Alexandria, an angel appeared to the Pope and ordered him to load Menas' body on a camel and head towards the Western Desert. At a certain spot near a water well at the end of Lake Mariout, not far from Alexandria, the camel stopped and wouldn't move. The Christians took this a sign from God and buried Menas' body there.
Berbers of Pentapolis rose against the cities around Alexandria. As the people were getting ready to face the Berbers, the Roman governor decided to secretly take the body of Saint Menas with him to be his deliverer and his strong protector. Through the saint's blessings, the governor overcame the Berbers and returned victorious. However, he decided not to return the body to its original place and wanted to take it to Alexandria. On the way back, as they passed by Lake Mariout at the same spot where the body was originally buried, the camel carrying the body knelt down and would not move. People moved the body to another camel, but the second camel would not move either. The governor finally realized that this was God's command. He made a coffin from decay-resistant wood and placed the silver coffin in it.
During the early fifth century, the body's location was forgotten. Years later, a shepherd was feeding his sheep in that location, and a sick lamb fell on the ground. As it struggled to get on its feet again, its scab was cured. The story spread quickly and the sick who came to this spot recovered from whatever illnesses they had just by lying on the ground. During that time, the legendary daughter of Emperor Zeno was leprous. His advisers suggested that she should try that place, and she did. At night Saint Minas appeared to the girl and informed her that his body was buried in that place. The following morning, Zeno's daughter was cured, and she related her vision about the saint to her servants. Zeno immediately ordered Menas' body to be dug out, and a cathedral to be built there. A large city was also built there and named after the saint.
After his martyrdom in the early fourth century, Menas acquired a reputation for miraculous healing powers. The cult of St Menas was centred on Abu Mena near Alexandria. Sick people from all over the Christian world used to visit that city and were healed through the intercessions of Saint Menas, who became known as the Wonders' Maker. Today, numerous little clay Menas flasks, or bottles for holy water or oil on which the saint's name and picture are stamped, are found by archeologists in diverse countries around the Mediterranean world, such as Heidelberg in Germany, Milan in Italy, Dalmatia in Croatia, Marseille in France, Dongola in Sudan, Meols (Cheshire) in England, and the holy city of Jerusalem, as well as modern Turkey and Eritrea. Pilgrims would buy these bottles and take them back to their relatives.
Menas is the patron saint of merchants and desert caravans, and is usually depicted between a pair of camels.
Menas is generally shown between two camels, the animals that, according to the legend, returned his body to Egypt for burial.
Most likely Menas of Mareotis, Menas of Cotyaes, and Mina of Constantinople, are all the same person honored in different places. Menas is sometimes called Menas the Soldier also called the "Wonder worker" in the West, where he is venerated as a military saint.
New Monastery and Cathedral of Saint Menas
As soon as Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria became Pope and Patriarch on Saint Mark's Throne, he began to put the foundations for a great monastery close to the remains of the old city. Today, the Monastery of Saint Mina is one of the most famous monasteries in Egypt. The relics of Saint Menas, as well as that of Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria lie in this monastery. The cathedral of Saint Menas was destroyed during the Arab invasions of the 8th century.
- Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria
- Minas (bishop)
- Church of Saint Menas (Cairo)
- Church of Saint Menas of Samatya, Istanbul
- St. Menas Cathedral, Heraklion
- Coptic Saints
- Saint Mina Monastery in Mariut
- San Menaio in Italy
- "Saint Menas, the miracle maker", Digital Egypt, University college London
- "St. Mena the Miracle-Worker", Coptic Orthodox Church Network
- Mershman, Francis. "St. Menas." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 11 Oct. 2013
- "Saint Mina's Story", St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
- "Saint Menas", Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe, Columbia University
- "St. Menas Pilgrim-Flasks or Ampullae", St. Mina Monastery in Mariut on the Web
- Weitzmann, Kurt, ed., Age of spirituality: late antique and early Christian art, third to seventh century, pp. 573-578, 1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, ISBN 9780870991790
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