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History of Abu Mena

The Saint and the City

This Icon is by the hand of Nicholas Papas. Liturgical artist Nicholas Papas is a communicant at St. Michael's Antiochian Orthodox Church in Greensburg, PA, USA.Mari Mina is one of the Lord Jesus Christís beloved ones, because he left "all", and followed His Savior. Therefore, he was not taken away by the world, for he did not belong to this world. Mari Mina is a well-known saint in the East and the West, due to the many miracles that are performed through his prayers. That is evident in the discovery of numerous clay bottles in different countries around the world. Those bottles bear the name and the picture of the saint, and usually contain oil or water for blessing. They were given to pilgrims and tourists who took them to their cities. Some of those bottles were discovered in Heidelburg in Germany, Milan in Italy, Dalmatia in Yugoslavia, Marseille in France, Dengla in Sudan, and even Jerusalem.

St. Mina was born in Egypt in the year 285, in the city of Niceous which lies in the vicinity of Memphis. His parents were good Christians; his fatherís name was Audexio, and his motherís name was Aufimia. The mother, who could not have children, used to pray in front of St. Maryís icon with tears in their eyes that God may give her a child. Once, while she was praying she heard a voice saying, "Amen." Therefore, when she finally got a son, she called him Mina. His father, who held an important position in the Roman Empire, died when Mina was only fourteen years old. Later Mina joined the army, and he was given a high rank because of his fatherís prominence. He was sent to Algeria, but he resigned after three years.

St. Mina headed toward the desert to live a different kind of life, devoting his whole heart to Christ. For five years, he lived as a hermit. He used to see visions: angels crowing martyrs with glamorous crowns. One day, while he was thinking about these revelations, he heard a sound, "Blessed are you, Abba Mina, because you have been called for the pious life from your childhood. You shall be granted three crowns; one for your celibacy, the second for your asceticism, and the third because you will be martyred".

St. Mina was overwhelmed by a great eagerness to live in heaven. In a mood of valor, he went to the ruler declaring his Christian faith. He was tortured beyond any means, but his endless suffering attracted many pagans not only to Christianity but also to martyrdom. The saintís assassins tried to burn his body but they failed, for the fire had no effect on it. Then, some believer loaded his body on a camel and headed toward the Western Desert. At a certain spot, the camel stopped, and they could not make it continue by any means. So they buried him right there. (That place is where his present monastery stands today, at the end of the lake of Mariut, not far from Alexandria.) 

Years later, it happened that while one of the shepherds was tending his sheep in the area, a sick lamb fell to the ground. The shepherd was astonished to see that its ailment was cured. The story spread around quickly, and many sick people who came to that spot were healed, just by lying on the ground. During that time the daughter of King Zinon, who was a good Christian, was very sick. His advisors suggested that she should try to visit that place. When she went there, Mari Mina appeared to her in a dream, and told her that his body was buried there. In the morning, she bathed in the lake and was healed. Then, she told her servants about the vision. Immediately, King Zinon ordered the saintís body to be dug out, and a church to be built in that place. He also encouraged the rich people to build houses and palaces in that area. Soon, a great city with the saintís name was erected there. Sick people from all over the world used to visit the city, and they were healed through the intercession of Mari Mina the Miracle-Performer.

It was in that city that the clay bottles were given to the pilgrims who came from the four corners of the earth seeking the blessing of that great saint. Those bottles were usually filled with oil or water, and they were carried back by the visitors to their relatives and friends for benediction.

After the Arab conquest (seventh century), destruction started to take place in the city, and its inhabitants were degraded. During the time of Haroun-El-Rashid or after, the Barbarians attacked the city, and burned a large section of it. When El-Mamoun was ruler of Egypt, he ordered to put the entire city down, and then used its numerous marble pillars to build his palace and mosques.

In the fourteenth century, some people in Mariut found a wooden box. They brought it to the governor, who opened it, only to find some bones wrapped in a piece of cloth. So he told his cook to throw the box in the fire. Then, at night when the cook went to prepare the food, he saw a column of light extending from the fire where the body of the saint was. He also noticed that neither the bones nor the cloth were burned. Pope Benjamin ordered the body to be transferred to the church of St. Mina in Fom-El-Khalig (Old Cairo).

It was only in the twentieth century that international missions began to search for the ruins of the ancient city. In 1961, Peter Grossman of the German Archaeological Institute started excavating the old city -- earlier discovered by German archaeologist Carl Kaufmann -- and was able to establish conclusively that the ruins were the famed monastic centre of St. Menas, one of the greatest centres of pilgrimage during the fifth to the seventh centuries. Grossman pointed to the location of marble stairs leading down to a crypt, and the tomb of St Menas which lay 10m beneath the high altar of the original basilica, constructed in the time of Constantine, by Athanasius the Great. The site was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979. The remainders of Abu Mena, no doubt, demonstrate the glory of the Coptic past and of the cult of St. Mina, which was revived again in the 20th century by the late Pope St. Kyrillos VI.

In 1959, Pope Kyrillos VI put the foundation of a great monastery, not far from the remains of the old city. No more than 1 Km from the site of Abu Mena, the new Monastery of St. Menas with its high surrounding wall and lofty twin towers can be seen. Dominating the enclosure is the cathedral in honour of the saint. Constructed of the finest materials: marble from Italy, black and rose granite from Aswan, stained-glass windows set in white plaster, and with the walls covered a plethora of crosses in filigree and mosaic, it is rapidly gaining a reputation as a major Christian pilgrimage site.

Pope Kyrillos VI and St. MinaIt is important to mention here that Pope Kyrillos and Mari Mena (St. Mina) were very close friends. This holy friendship proves that those who dwell in heaven remain steadfast in their relation with those who live on earth. The question is how can we be pure enough to win the friendship of the saints and to enjoy their companionship? Thus, in the blessed days of Pope Kyrillos the sixth, God permitted the old monastery of Mari Mina to be resurrected, and the Copts and other people to visit it, and to be blessed by the saint. Pope Kyrillos also stated in his will that he should be buried in the new monastery beside his personal friend Mari Mina, and not in the famous St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo.

May the prayers and the blessing of these two great saints: Mari Mina the Miracle-Performer and Pope Kyrillos VI the Patriarch be with us all. Amen.


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This page was last modified September 19, 2002
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