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E05120: Coptic Life of *John, the monk (S01944), relating his escape as a young man from his rich home in Rome to join a monastery where he was torturing and destroying his body through severe asceticism, returning to Rome years later to live as a beggar at the gateway of his parents’ house. When he died they built him a shrine (martyrion) at that spot; written most likely during the 6th century.

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posted on 2018-02-21, 00:00 authored by gschenke
Brit. Mus. Ms. Oriental no. 6783, fol. 67b–83a

The vita is introduced as follows:

Fol. 67b; Budge, p. 185, lines 1–8:

ⲡⲁⲓ ⲡⲉ ⲡⲃⲓⲟⲥ ⲙⲡⲙⲁⲕⲁⲣⲓⲟⲥ ⲓⲱϩⲁⲛⲛⲏⲥ ⲡⲙⲟⲛⲟⲭⲟⲥ ⲛⲧⲉⲗⲓⲟⲛ ⲡⲁⲓ ⲛⲧⲁⲛϥⲉⲓⲟⲟⲧⲉ ⲥⲙⲓⲛⲉ ⲛⲁϥ ⲙⲡⲉⲩⲁⲅⲅⲉⲗⲓⲟⲛ ⲛⲛⲟⲩⲃ · ⲉⲁϥϫⲱⲕ
ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲙⲡϥⲃⲓⲟⲥ ⲉⲧⲛⲁⲛⲟⲩϥ ϩⲛ ⲟⲩⲙⲛⲧⲧⲉⲗⲓⲟⲥ ⲙⲛ ⲟⲩϩⲩⲡⲟⲙⲟⲛⲏ ⲉⲛⲁⲛⲟⲩⲥ · ⲛⲥⲟⲩ ϥⲧⲟⲟⲩ ⲙⲡⲉⲃⲟⲧ · ⲙⲉⲭⲓⲣ ϩⲛ ⲟⲩⲉⲓⲣⲏⲛⲏ ⲛⲧⲉ
ⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ⲥⲙⲟⲩ ⲉⲣⲟⲛ ⲧⲏⲣⲛ ϩⲁⲙⲏⲛ ⁖-

‘This is the life of the blessed man John, the perfect monk, this one whose parents provided him with the golden Gospel, who completed his good life in perfection and good patient endurance on day four of the month Mecheir
(29 January). In God’s peace. Bless us all. Amen.’

John was the youngest of the three sons of Eutropius, the archon of the city of Rome, and his wife Theodora. The Christian family was very rich and the youngest son received instructions to enter a career in the church.

One day a monk from the monastery of ‘Those who do not sleep’ (ⲛⲉⲧⲉⲙⲉⲩⲛⲕⲟⲧⲕ) passed by on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, John asked the monk to take him to his monastery so he can join their life. On his return from Jerusalem, the monk fulfilled his promise to visit John again who had secretly made preparations to leave his parents’ home and join that monastery.

John asked his parents for a proper Gospel which they happily supplied for him, lavishly decorated and covered in gold, as well as for some money which he spent on his fare on board a ship that took him to the monastery of Those Who Do Not Sleep.

Even though he was still very young, John was allowed to enter the monastery as a full member where he then prayed day and night and exercised such severe asceticism that even the abbot of the monastery became concerned for his physical well-being. After six years of the most severe fasting and sleeplessness, his body was infirm and weak. So much so that the devil was able to approached him and inspire in him a desire to see his parents again.

As a result, John prepares to leave the monastery to visit his parents back in Rome. The monks pray over him to invoke the protective powers of the saints for him.

Fol. 76a; Budge, p. 194, lines 29–33:

ⲛⲧⲟⲟⲩ ⲇⲉ ⲧⲏⲣⲟⲩ ϩⲓ ⲟⲩⲥⲟⲡ ⲁⲩⲡⲱⲣϣ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ⲛⲛⲉⲩϭⲓϫ ϩⲓϫⲛ ⲧⲁⲡⲉ ⲛⲓⲱⲥ ⲉⲩϫⲱ ⲙⲙⲟⲥ ϫⲉ ⲉⲣⲉ ⲛⲉϣⲗⲏⲗ ⲛⲛⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ⲛⲁⲙⲟⲟϣⲉ
ⲛⲙⲙⲁⲕ · ⲉⲧⲣⲉ ⲕϩⲱⲙ ⲉϫⲛ ⲧϭⲟⲙ ⲧⲏⲣⲥ ⲙⲡϫⲁϫⲉ ⁖-

‘And they all together spread out their hands over John’s head, saying: “The prayers of the saints shall go with you to let you trample all the power of the enemy.”’

When John reached his parents house in the city of Rome, his parents did not recognise him due to his altered state, resembling a dying beggar. His father fed him from the kitchen and the door keeper made him a small hut by the gateway of the house to remain away from sight. John spent ten years living as a beggar by the gate of his parents’ house, distributing the charity he received from his father’s house amongst the poor and helpless of the city.

When his final days approached, he had a vision of Christ announcing his death in the following way:

Fol. 79a; Budge, p. 198, lines 23–26:

ⲁⲓⲧⲉⲓ ⲕⲉϣⲟⲙⲛⲧ ⲛϩⲟⲟⲩ ⲛⲉⲧⲉⲟⲩⲛⲧⲁⲕ ⲥⲟⲩ ϩⲙ ⲡⲉⲓⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲥ · ϣⲁⲛⲧⲕⲉⲓ ⲉϩⲣⲁⲓ ⲉⲙⲡⲏⲩⲉ ϩⲁϩⲧⲏⲓ · ⲛⲅⲙⲧⲟⲛ ⲙⲙⲟⲕ ⲙⲛ ⲛⲁⲡⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ·

‘I have given you three more days to have in this world, until you come up to the heavens before me and rest yourself with my saints.’

John then asked the doorkeeper to urge his mother to come to him, which she very reluctantly does. Only due to the golden Gospel held by John did she believe that this was her long lost son. Under tears she swore him an oath to bury him in his humble clothes in this very hut in which he had spent these last years.

When after her son's death his mother ignored her oath and arranged a befitting state funeral for him, an angel came down causing her immediate immobility and pains in her feet. Realising her broken oath, the parents rectify the situation and follower John's wishes for his burial closely which results in the immediate healing of his mother's condition.

The text then ends with the distraught parents building a shrine (martyrion) over their son’s burial and making donations to the poor.

Fol. 83a; Budge, p. 202, line 31–p. 203, line 5:

ⲛϥⲉⲓⲟⲟⲧⲉ ⲇⲉ ⲁⲩⲧⲱⲙⲥ ⲙⲙⲟϥ ϩⲛ {ϩⲛ} ⲧⲕⲁⲗⲩⲃⲏ ⲕⲁⲧⲁ ⲑⲉ ⲛⲧⲁϥϫⲟⲟⲥ ⲛⲁⲩ ⲁⲩⲱ ⲁⲩⲕⲱⲧ ⲉϫⲱϥ ⲛⲟⲩⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲓⲟⲛ ⲁⲩϥⲓ ⲙⲡⲉⲧⲛⲧⲁⲩ ⲧⲏⲣϥ · ⲁⲩⲥⲟⲣϥ ⲛⲛϩⲏⲕⲉ ⲙⲛ ⲛⲉⲧϣⲁⲁⲧ · ⲙⲛⲛⲥⲱⲥ ⲁⲛϥⲉⲓⲟⲟⲧⲉ ϫⲱⲕ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ ϩⲛ ⲟⲩⲃⲓⲟⲥ ⲉⲛⲁⲛⲟⲩϥ ⲉⲩϯⲉⲟⲟⲩ ⲙⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ⲙⲛ ⲛⲉϣⲗⲏⲗ ⲛⲛⲉⲛⲉⲓⲟⲟⲧⲉ ⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ⁖- ⲡⲁⲓ ⲡⲉ ⲡⲁⲅⲱⲛ ⲙⲡⲡⲉⲧⲟⲩⲁⲁⲃ ⲓⲱⲥ ⲛⲧⲁϥϭⲙϭⲟⲙ ⲛϩⲏⲧϥ ·

‘And his parents buried him in the hut, just as he had told them (to do). They built a martyr shrine (martyrion) above him and took everything they owned and distributed it to the poor and those in need. Afterwards, his parents completed a good life, glorifying God with the prayers of our holy fathers. This is the contest of saint John in which he found strength.’

(Text: E. A. W. Budge; summary and trans.: G. Schenke)


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John/Ioannes from Rome, perfect monk, who dies of severe asceticism : S01944 Angels, unnamed or name lost : S00723 Saints, unnamed : S00518

Saint Name in Source

ⲓⲱϩⲁⲛⲛⲏⲥ, ⲓⲱⲥ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Colophons, marginalia etc. Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts Late antique original manuscripts - Parchment codex


  • Coptic

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Edfu Esna

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

Edfu Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis Esna Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - monastic

Cult activities - Places Named after Saint

  • Monastery

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Punishing miracle Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - abbots Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Relatives of the saint Other lay individuals/ people Angels


The parchment codex Ms. Oriental no. 6783 is housed at the British Museum. The manuscript was produced by a man name Viktor, deacon of the church of *Merkurios, the General (S01323) at Latopolis/Esna (Upper Egypt) and completed on day 23 of Mesore (16 August) of the year 1003 AD. The expense of copying and producing the manuscript was paid by Zacharias, a deacon and monk at the monastery of Merkurios the General at Apollinopolis/Atbo/Edfu (Upper Egypt), where he donated the manuscript to the saint’s shrine, so that Merkurios as well as all the other saints appearing in this book would intercede on his behalf for the salvation of his soul. The codex includes the following texts: 1. Fol. 1a–22b: Life of Eustathios, the General, and his family (E05115) 2. Fol. 23a–30a: Life of Apa Kyros/Apakyros, the perfect monk (E05116) 3. Fol. 30b–45b: Encomion on Demetrios, archbishop of Alexandria, attributed to Flavianus, bishop of Ephesos (E05117) 4. Fol. 45b–63a: The ascetic life of Apa Ephraim (E05118) 5. Fol. 63b–67b: An Epistle of Apa Ephraim to a beloved disciple (E05119) 6. Fol. 67b–83a: Life of John the Monk 7. Fol. 83a–84a: Colophon and Prayer


Text and translation: Budge, E.A.W., Coptic Martyrdoms etc. in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (Coptic Texts 4; London: British Museum, 1914), 184–203 (text) and 436–454 (trans.).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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