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One of world’s earliest Christian charms found in Manchester uni library

A 1,500 year-old papyrus fragment found in The University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library has been identified as one the world’s earliest surviving Christian charms ...

A 1,500 year-old papyrus fragment found in The University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library has been identified as one the world’s earliest surviving Christian charms.  

The remarkable document uniquely contains some of the earliest documented references to the Last Supper and ‘manna from heaven’. It is the earliest surviving document to use the Christian Eucharist liturgy – which outlines the Last Supper – as a protective charm.  

Dr Roberta Mazza, a Research Fellow of the recently established John Rylands Research Institute came across the Greek ‘amulet’ while working on thousands of fragments of unpublished historical documents that are kept in the library’s vaults. According to the researcher, the charm casts important new light on early Christianity – just 300 years after the Roman emperor Constantine converted to the religion.

It shows how Christians adopted the ancient Egyptian practice of wearing amulets to protect the wearer against dangers. This practice of writing charms on pieces of papyrus was continued by the Christians who replaced the prayers to Egyptian and Greco-Roman gods with extracts from the Bible.  
Dr Mazza also discovered the document was written on an ancient version of recycled paper by using cutting-edge spectral imaging techniques.

Faint lettering on the back of the charm is thought to be a receipt for the payment of grain tax which was certified by the tax collector from the village of Tertembuthis – this is in the countryside of the ancient city of Hermoupolis (modern el-Ashmunein).     

Dr Mazza said: “The amulet maker would have cut a piece of the receipt, written the charm on the other side and then he would have folded the papyrus to be kept in a locket or pendant. It is for this reason the tax receipt on the exterior was damaged and faded away.”  

The document had been held at the library since around 1901, but its significance had not been realized until Dr Mazza spotted it.

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