Christian Relic found in Manchester Library

A recently discovered papyrus amulet dating from the 6th century may offer a glimpse into early Christian life that does not come by very often.

Roberta Mazza, a university lecturer, encountered the 1,500-year-old document while researching in the University of Manchester’s Library.

Among the first words she managed to decipher was “manna”, the biblical bread of God. After translating the rest, Mazza stated to media that it was clear the parchment had a “patchwork” of passages from the Old and New Testaments.

Amulets are objects mainly believed to possess special qualities that offer protection and good fortune to the bearer. Thus the use of charms and amulets as a way of warding off evil spirits might seem surprising, but it was actually common among early Christians, Mazza continued to the media.

Whoever made the amulet — which was written on the back of a tax receipt — had some degree of literacy, Mazza continued, and the writer may have been clergy. It may have been done by memory. It also suggests that early Christians may have been more fluid with their interpretations of the bible and the individual’s relationship with the holy text.

“Nowadays we think of the Bible as this fixed work where every word is in such precise place,” Mazza concluded. “A piece like this is telling us that the knowledge of the Bible was transmitted much more through words, liturgy, prayers and amulets than through a book.”