Funerary stelae from the Byzantine period in Egypt, carved in stone and usually painted, were permanent monuments to the deceased. While normally embedded in walls or floors near the tomb, some were part of larger structures. Their decorations include scenes of paradise and symbols of the Christian Church. This example, said to be from the Upper Nile Delta town of Armant, bears the name of a prominent citizen who was buried near the marker.
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Title:Funerary Stele with Architectural Frame
Geography:Made in Egypt
Medium:Limestone; carved in relief and painted
Dimensions:H. 20 11/16 in. (52.5 cm) W. 14 9/16 in. (37 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1936
The composition of this Christian funerary stela has two parts. Below is an architectural frame defined by two columns, the bases of which stand on representations of fish. Above, resting on the capitals, is a highly decorated apse described by an arching vine scroll and interlace patterns following the semicircular shape of the stela. At the center of the concentric arches is a rosette. The polychromy adds details not found in the carving; there are, for example, red and green sections in the straited columns and, between the columns, small black circles ornament the frame that surrounds an inscription in Coptic: "To the memory of the deceased, Taeiam, who departed from this life on the 18th of Choiak (December) of the 7th indiction. She sleeps in Christ."
That the deceased was not dead but simply asleep was widely believed by early Christians and is referred to in many funerary inscriptions. "Taeiam sleeps in Christ" is an avowal that her soul has ascended to the kingdom of heaven. As if in confirmation, the composition represents a vision of the kingdom of heaven in the form of a tabernacle, where the pious Taeiam will sojourn until the second coming of Christ. Her hopes are also expressed in the Coptic lithurgy for the dead:
"And these, O Lord, and all these names we have recited...who have fallen asleep and have gone to their rest in the faith of Christ, vouchsafe to grant rest to all their souls in the bosom of the holy fathers...nourish them in a place of pasturage beside the waters of comfort in the paradise of joy, whence sorrow and sighting and weeping have fled away in the light of thy saints..."
Thelma K. Thomas in [Friedman 1989]
1. F. Brightman ed. Lithurgies, Eastern and Western. Reprint 1965. Oxford, 1898, pp. 170–1.
Inscription: Inscribed in Coptic: To the memory of the deceased, Taeiam, who departed from this life on the eighteenth of Choiak [December] of the seventh indiction [a city’s fiscal calendar]. She sleeps in Christ.
Unknownowner, Thebes, Egypt; sold to MMA
Providence, RI. Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. "Beyond the Pharaohs: Egypt and the Copts in the 2nd to 7th Centuries A.D.," February 10, 1989–April 16, 1989, no. 174.
Friedman, Florence D. "Egypt and the Copts in the 2nd to 7th Centuries AD." In Beyond the Pharaohs. Providence, R.I.: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1989. no. 174, p. 260, ill. (b/w).
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