The letter is written by a scribe named Petros on behalf of the head of a female monastery of Apa Shenoute in the Fayum. It is addressed to a woman named Theodosia and deals primarily with an enquiry for and the delivery of goods, mostly textiles, dyes, and parchment, before mentioning a piece of Shenoute’s garment having been sent to a woman suffering from a daemon.
P.Paramone 14, line 6–8:
Ἔμαθον δὲ ὅτι Θεοδότη ἐδαιμονίσθη, καὶ λαβοῦσα μικρὸν ἐκ τοῦ στιχαρίου τοῦ προφήτο̣υ̣ αββα Σινουθίου ἔπεμψα διὰ Ἐπιμάχου, ἵνα τοῦτο βάλητε αὐτῇ, καὶ ἐὰν μὴ ὑγιάνῃ, πέμψον μοι αὐτήν.
'I have heard that Theodote is suffering from a daemon, and I have taken a small piece of the garment (sticharion) of the prophet Abba Shenoute. I have sent it through Epimachos, so that you may throw it onto her. And if she is not healed, send her to me.'
The full text is available online at:
Translation: Gesa Schenke.
Saint NameShenoute, abbot of the White Monastery near Akhmim/Panopolis (Upper Egypt), ob. c. 465. : S00688
Saint Name in Sourceαββα Σινούθιος
Type of EvidenceDocumentary texts - Letter
Evidence not before600
Evidence not after699
Activity not before600
Activity not after699
Place of Evidence - RegionEgypt and Cyrenaica
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcArsinoites (Fayum)
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Arsinoites (Fayum)
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - monastic
Cult activities - Places Named after Saint
Cult Activities - MiraclesHealing diseases and disabilities
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesWomen
Other lay individuals/ people
Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
Cult Activities - RelicsContact relic - saint’s possession and clothes
Cult Activities - Cult Related ObjectsPrecious cloths
SourceP.Paramone 14, Paris, Louvre E 7401/ W CXXXII, is a fragmentary papyrus missing the beginning of the text, and lacking an address. The handwriting is typical of the 7th century. The document was found in the Fayum.
DiscussionThe scribe Petros appears in line 8. He addresses a woman as 'my God-protected mistress' (ἡ θεοφύλακτος μου κυρᾶ, line 8) who appears a few lines later by the name Theodosia (Θεοδοσία ἡ θεοφύλακτος, line 15). Petros writes to her on behalf of 'the great woman of those of Abba Shenoute' (ἡ μεγάλη τῶν αββα Σινούθου, line 8), who is most likely the head of a female monastery of Apa Shenoute in the Fayum, possibly a branch of the well-known monastery of Dayr Anba Shinudah located in the South-west of what is today Madinat el-Fayum.
The emphasis of the letter lies in an enquiry for and delivery of goods, textiles, dyes, and parchment, which seems to illustrate first and foremost the economic interactions between the female monastery of Apa Shenoute in the Fayum and its surrounding elite. For this interaction with the outside world, the scribe uses Greek.
In line 13, however, a second hand adds a list of things sent from the monastery to the addressee. These last four lines of the document seem to be an addition made directly by a member of the female monastery, unless the monastery suddenly made use of a second Greek scribe. One of the economic matters dealt with in this letter concerns the aparche (ἀπαρχή) of a makarios Apphu, in line 9–10, which the editor understood to be a payment of first fruits to the saint Apphu, a famous anchorite and former bishop of Oxyrhynchos. This led her to believe that female monasteries dedicated to Shenoute in various parts of the country were somehow making payments for a church in Oxyrhynchos dedicated to an Oxyrhynchite saint. What seems to be the case here, however, is a payment to the monastery made by a man named Apphu (So already Jean-Luc Fournet, quoted but dismissed by Jördens, p. 154) who, judging by the term makarios used here in connection with his name, was recently deceased. The payment of ἀπαρχή due from land owned by the monastery, but cultivated by external labour, had to still be paid, presumably by the relatives or co-workers of the deceased, an issue the sender asks the addressee to somehow resolve.
In addition to the economic matters with which this letter is concerned, the sender also announces, via her scribe, that she has sent a small piece of the garment of the prophet Abba Shenoute through a man named Epimachos, since she heard that a certain Theodote was suffering from a daemon. This piece is to be put upon the patient, presumably to drive the daemon out of her body.
On the assumption that only the original monastery of Apa Shenoute, the so-called White Monastery at Sohag, would be in possession of its founder’s garments, the editor of the papyrus postulated that this letter illustrates interaction between two nunneries of Apa Shenoute, one at Sohag, the other located in the Fayum. There is, however, no reason to suppose that a monastery in the Fayum could not have possessed small fragments of Shenoute’s garments by the 7th century. The subdivision of relics, contact relics and bodily relics alike, practised in the belief that even the smallest part carried the full power of the saint, was a common phenomenon in the 4th to 7th century (see Claudia Rapp, ‘Saints and holy men’, 559).
Due to the lack of any monastic titles, there is also no evidence that the recipient of the letter, the woman Theodosia addressed as 'my God-protected mistress' (Θεοδοσία ἡ θεοφύλακτος, line 15), was a female monk or the head of a monastery. She might have been an important local figure with whom the female monastery interacted. This would also explain the use of a Greek scribe, unlikely to be needed for the correspondence between two Coptic monasteries. The woman mentioned as suffering from a daemon, Theodote, could be a family member of the addressee, as well as an employee or a servant.
What is particularly interesting here, is that a small piece of the sticharion, presumably an undergarment, of Shenoute is used as a contact relic, believed to cause healing and entrusted with a courier to be brought to the patient. Only in the unlikely event of failure to obtain healing through the relic, is the patient to be sent to the monastery itself, presumably for other, stronger remedies. The possibility that the small relic might not be powerful enough is clearly considered and combined with the offer to entrust the patient to the monastery itself, most likely to be treated there by a physician or nurse working in the monastic infirmary, if not to take part in some stronger healing cult activity centred around relics performed within the monastery.
Shenoute styled himself as a prophetic ‘voice crying in the wilderness’ through his own writings when addressing the monastic community he led. This self-promotion as a tool of God who was receiving ‘revelations and disclosures from the Lord’ brought him the epithet the ‘prophet’ (see D. Brakke and A. Crislip, Selected Discourses of Shenoute the Great, 3–4 and 13). The title of the Bohairic Life of Shenoute likewise refers to him as 'the prophet Apa Shenoute' (ⲡⲡⲣⲟⲫⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲁⲡⲁ ϣⲉⲛⲟⲩϯ), see E01093.
Shenoute, who used the term ‘prophet’ for himself to emphasise his authority (see e.g. Krawiec, Shenoute, 55–56), had also bequeathed his garments, partly ripped in desperation, to his fellow monks to keep for future generations as proof of his struggle in life (Leipoldt, Schenute, 55). The strength of his willpower and authority preserved in these garments might still be felt to be sufficient to frighten and drive out daemons by the mere touch of them. Parts of his garments were most likely in the possession of monasteries bearing his name.
BibliographyBrakke, D., and Crislip, A., Selected Discourses of Shenoute the Great: Community, Theology, and Social Conflict in Late Antique Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Crislip, A., “Care for the Sick in Shenoute’s Monasteries,” in: G. Gabra and H.N. Takla (eds.), Christianity and Monasticism in Upper Egypt, Volume 1: Akhmim and Sohag (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2008), 21–32.
Jördens, A., "Reliquien des Schenute im Frauenkonvent," in: J.M.S. Cowey and B. Kramer (eds.), Paramone: Editionen und Aufsätze von Mitgliedern des Heidelberger Instituts für Papyrologie zwischen 1982 und 2004 (Archiv für Papyruskunde, Beiheft 16; Munich/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2004), 142–156.
Krawiec, R., Shenoute and the Women of the White Monastery (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Krawiec, R., “The Role of the Female Elder in Shenoute's White Monastery,” in: G. Gabra and H.N. Takla (eds.), Christianity and Monasticism in Upper Egypt: Volume 1: Akhmim and Sohag (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2008), 59–71.
Leipoldt, J., Schenute von Atripe und die Entstehung des national ägyptischen Christentums (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1903).
Rapp, C., "Saints and holy men," in: A. Casiday and F.W. Norris (eds.), The Cambridge History of Christianity, Vol. 2: Constantine to c. 600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2007), 548-566.