Hallelujah! One of world’s oldest Christian charms discovered at Manchester’s John Rylands Library

One of the world’s earliest surviving Christian charms, in the form of a 1,500 year-old paper-like fragment, has been discovered in the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library.

The astounding discovery was made by Dr Roberta Mazza, who stumbled across the charm while working on an array of unpublished historical documents which are kept in the library’s vaults.

As a result of the find, researchers at the University now believe that the knowledge of the Bible was much more embedded in sixth century AD Egypt than they could have imagined.  

Dr Mazza, a research fellow of the recently established John Rylands Institute, said: “This is an important and unexpected discovery.

“It’s one of the first recorded documents to use magic in the Christian context and the first charm ever found to refer to the Eucharist – the last supper – as the manna of the Old Testament.”

She added: “Experienced curators and conservators look after this national treasure of global importance which has rich, untapped potential for research and discovery.”

The document has been in the possession of the library since 1901 but until Dr Mazza came across the charm its importance had not been realised.

The papyrus (a paper-like material) fragment is the earliest surviving document to refer to the Christian Eucharist Liturgy and is described as ‘exciting’ and ‘fascinating’ by Christians.
It is common practice for Christians to use passages from the Bible as protective charms even today, and the discovery of the fragment is instrumental in documenting the beginning of a key Christian belief.

The discovery of the fragment is also of importance to historians, as it demonstrates the adoption of the ancient Egyptian practice of wearing amulets by Christians.

Professor Peter E Pormann, Director of the John Rylands Research Institute said: “We’re very excited about this find – it’s a great way to herald the official launch of the John Rylands Research Institute on October 13.”

Although the identity of the owner has not yet been clarified, Dr Mazza has expressed that the owner was likely a resident of a nearby village to the Egyptian town, Hermoupolis (el-Ashmunein.)

After thorough inspection of the charm, the classics and history lecturer has concluded that faint lettering on the reverse of the charm is most likely a receipt for the payment of grain tax, certified by a tax collector in the countryside of Hermoupolis.
Dr Mazza is hopeful that by working with the University’s Faculty of Humanities, any further secrets surrounding the basis of Christianity can soon be uncovered.

Rachel Beckett, Head of Special Collections at University of Manchester Library and Associate Director of the John Rylands Research Institute said: “This is a truly remarkable discovery, and clearly demonstrates the strength and global significance of the library’s collections.”

“This incredibly rare discovery is said to cast a new and exciting new light on the early years of Christianity.”

Image courtesy of University of Manchester, with thanks

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