University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E02969: Festal Letter (41), in Coptic, of Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, accusing the Melitians of digging up martyrs’ bodies and exposing them to anyone who wishes to see them for reasons of greed and financial gain, written in 369 AD.

online resource
posted on 2017-06-12, 00:00 authored by gschenke
Ed. Lefort, fragment 13, p. 62.23–63.3:

ⲛⲥⲱⲙⲁ ⲅⲁⲣ ⲛⲙⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ ⲛⲧⲁⲩⲁⲅⲱⲛⲓⲍⲉ ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲙⲡⲟⲩϩⲟⲡⲟⲩ ϩⲙ ⲡⲕⲁϩ ⲁⲗⲗⲁ ⲉⲩⲉⲡⲓⲭⲉⲣⲉⲓ ⲉⲕⲁⲁⲩ ϩⲓϫⲛ ϩⲉⲛϭⲗⲟϭ ⲙⲛ ϩⲉⲛⲡⲟϭⲉ
ⲛϣⲉ ⲉⲧⲣⲉⲛⲉⲧⲟⲩⲱϣ ⲑⲉⲱⲣⲉⲓ ⲙⲙⲟⲟⲩ · ⲉⲩⲉⲓⲣⲉ ⲇⲉ ⲙⲡⲁ ϩⲛ ⲟⲩⲥⲭⲏⲙⲁ ⲙⲉⲛ ϩⲱⲥ ⲉⲧⲃⲉ ⲡⲧⲁⲓⲟ ⲛⲙⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ ϩⲛ ⲟⲩⲙⲉ ⲇⲉ ⲟⲩⲥⲱϣ ⲡⲉ ⲡϩⲱⲃ · ⲉⲩⲉⲓⲣⲉ ⲇⲉ ⲙⲡⲁ ⲉⲧⲃⲉ ⲟⲩϩⲱⲃ ⲛϣⲗⲟϥ · ⲕⲁⲓⲡⲉⲣ ⲅⲁⲣ ⲉⲙⲛⲧⲟⲩ ⲥⲱⲙⲁ ⲙⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ ϩⲛ ⲧⲉⲩⲡⲟⲗⲓⲥ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲉⲩⲥⲟⲟⲩⲛ ⲁⲛ ϫⲉ
ⲟⲩ ⲡⲉ ⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ ⲉⲁⲩϣⲟϫⲛⲉ ⲉϫⲓⲟⲩⲉ ⲉⲛⲉⲩⲥⲱⲙⲁ ⲛⲥⲉϥⲓⲧⲟⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϩⲛ ⲛⲕⲟⲓⲙⲏⲧⲏⲣⲓⲟⲛ ⲛⲧⲕⲁⲑⲟⲗⲓⲕⲏ ⲉⲕⲕⲗⲏⲥⲓⲁ · ⲛⲉⲛⲧⲁⲩⲟⲩⲱ
ⲅⲁⲣ ⲉⲩⲧⲱⲙⲥ ⲙⲙⲟⲟⲩ ⲥⲉϣⲓⲧⲉ ⲉⲣⲟⲟⲩ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲥⲉⲡⲱⲱⲛⲉ ⲙⲙⲟⲟⲩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϫⲉⲕⲁⲥ ⲉⲡⲉⲓⲇⲏ ⲥⲉϫⲡⲓⲟ ⲙⲙⲟⲟⲟⲩ ϩⲱⲥ ⲉⲁⲩⲁⲣⲛⲁ
ⲙⲡⲉⲛⲧⲁⲙⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ ⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ϩⲟⲙⲟⲗⲟⲅⲉⲓ ⲙⲙⲟϥ ⲉⲩⲉϭⲛ ⲑⲉ ⲕⲁⲛ ϩⲓⲧⲛ ⲛⲉⲩⲥⲱⲙⲁ ⲉⲁⲡⲁⲧⲁ ⲛⲛⲉⲧⲟⲩⲡⲗⲁⲛⲁ ⲙⲙⲟⲟⲩ

‘For they (the Melitians) have not left hidden in the earth the bodies of the martyrs who contested well, but they try to put them on stretchers and pieces of wood so that those who want to can view them. They do this with pomp, as if on account of the honor of the martyrs, but truly this is a contemptible thing, and they do it for a shameful reason. For indeed they have no martyr bodies in their city, nor do they know which is a martyr, although they have taken counsel to blaspheme their bodies and take them from the cemeteries of the Catholic church. For those who have already been buried they exhume and carry out, so that, since they are put to shame for denying him whom the holy martyrs confessed, they might, even through their (the martyrs’) bodies, find a way to deceive those whom they lead astray.’

Ed. Lefort, fragment 8, p. 25.21–25:

ⲟⲩⲡⲟⲛⲏⲣⲓⲁ ⲅⲁⲣ ⲉⲥϣⲁⲁⲧ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲡⲉ <ⲉ>ϣⲓⲧⲉ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲉⲥⲩⲗⲁ ⲛⲛⲧⲁⲫⲟⲥ ⲛⲙⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲛⲥⲉⲧⲙⲧⲟⲙⲥⲟⲩ ⲛⲑⲉ ⲛⲛⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ϩⲁⲑⲏ
ⲇⲉ ⲛⲟⲩⲟⲛ ⲛⲓⲙ ⲛⲑⲉ ⲙⲡϫⲟⲉⲓⲥ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲛⲥⲉⲧⲛⲧⲱⲛⲟⲩ ⲙⲙⲓⲛⲉ ⲙⲙⲟⲟⲩ ⲉⲛⲉⲯⲉⲩⲧⲟⲡⲣⲟⲫⲏⲧⲏⲥ

‘For it is a condemned evil to dig up and plunder the tombs of the martyrs and not to bury them like the saints and, above everyone else, like the Lord. Instead, they make themselves equal to the false prophets.’

Ed. Lefort, fragment 8, p. 26.3–10:

ⲛⲓⲙ ⲡⲉⲧⲛⲁϣⲙⲉⲥⲧⲉ ⲛϩⲁⲓⲣⲉⲧⲓⲕⲟⲥ ⲕⲁⲧⲁ ⲡⲉⲩⲙⲡϣⲁ
ⲛⲓⲙ ⲡⲉⲧⲛⲁⲟⲩⲱϣ ⲕⲁⲛ ⲉⲧⲱⲙⲛⲧ ⲉⲣⲟⲟⲩ ⲉⲩⲥⲱϣ ⲛⲛⲥⲱⲙⲁ ⲛⲛⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ⲛⲑⲉ ⲛⲛⲯⲉⲩⲧⲟⲡⲣⲟⲫⲏⲧⲏⲥ
ⲛⲓⲙ ⲡⲉⲧⲛⲁⲛⲁⲩ ⲉⲛⲥⲱⲙⲁ ⲛⲛⲉⲡⲣⲟⲫⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲙⲛ ⲛⲥⲱⲙⲁ ⲛⲙⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ ⲛⲏϫ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲉⲩϭⲟⲗⲡ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲛϥⲧⲙⲥⲧⲱⲧ
ⲟⲩϩⲱⲃ ⲛⲭⲣⲓⲥⲧⲓⲁⲛⲟⲥ ⲁⲛ ⲡⲉ ⲡⲁ · ⲙⲡⲉⲡⲁⲩⲗⲟⲥ ϯⲡⲁ ⲉⲧⲟⲟⲧⲛ · ⲙⲡⲉⲙⲡⲁⲧⲣⲓⲁⲣⲭⲏⲥ ⲣⲡⲁ ⲟⲩⲧⲉ ⲛⲉⲡⲣⲟⲫⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲕⲁⲧⲁ ⲕⲁⲓⲣⲟⲥ
ⲁⲗⲗⲁ ⲙⲙⲉⲗⲓⲧⲓⲁⲛⲟⲥ ⲛⲉⲛⲧⲁⲩϣⲟϫⲛⲉ ⲉⲛⲁ ⲉⲧⲃⲉ ⲟⲩⲙⲛⲧⲉϣⲱⲧ

‘Who will be able to hate the heretics as much as they deserve? Who would want even to meet up with them when they are humiliating the bodies of the saints like the false prophets?
Who will see the bodies of the prophets and of the martyrs lying about and exposed and will not tremble? This is not a Christian act. Paul did not command us to do this. The patriarchs did not do this, nor did the prophets in their time. Rather, it is the Melitians who have counseled these things for the sake of financial gain.’

Ed. Lefort, fragment 8, p. 26.16–18, and fragment 14, p. 64.12–14:

ⲛⲁ ϩⲱⲟⲩ ⲥⲉⲛⲁⲥⲱⲧⲙ ⲉⲣⲟϥ ⲡⲁⲛⲧⲱⲥ ⲉϥϫⲱ ⲙⲙⲟⲥ ϫⲉ ⲙⲡⲣϯ ⲙⲡⲥⲱⲙⲁ ⲛⲛⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲧⲉⲩϩⲟⲙⲟⲗⲟⲅⲓⲁ ⲉⲧⲛⲁⲛⲟⲩⲥ
ⲙⲡⲣⲁⲁⲥ ⲙⲙⲛⲧⲉϣⲱⲧ ⲉⲧⲃⲉ ⲟⲩⲙⲛⲧⲙⲁⲓϩⲟⲙⲛⲧ

‘They (the Melitians) too will by all means hear him (the Lord) say, “Do not sell the body of my martyrs and do not make their good confession a business for the sake of greed.”’

Text: Lefort 1955. Translation, Brakke 1998, slightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Unnamed martyrs (or name lost) : S00060

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Coptic

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Alexandria Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Major author/Major anonymous work

Athanasius of Alexandria

Cult activities - Places

Martyr shrine (martyrion, bet sāhedwātā, etc.)

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


The letter is preserved in various fragments from two different parchment codices, codex B of the 9th/10th century and codex C of the 12th century, most of them located in Paris, B.N.F.


Edition: Lefort, L., Saint Athanase: Lettres festales et pastorals, CSCO 150 (Leuven, 1955), 23–26 and 62–64. Translation: Brakke, D., "'Outside the Places, Within the Truth': Athanasius of Alexandria and the Localization of the Holy," in: D. Frankfurter, Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt (Leiden, 1998), 445–481, with the translations of festal letter 41 on pp. 474–478.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager