Ancient Last Supper charm found in John Rylands Library

Last Supper papyrus Image copyright university of manchester
Image caption The text was written on the back of a fragment of a grain tax receipt

A 1,500-year-old papyrus charm thought to be "the first ever found to refer to the Last Supper and use magic in the Christian context" has been discovered in the vaults of a Manchester library.

The fragment was found at the University of Manchester's John Rylands Library by researcher Dr Roberta Mazza.

Dr Mazza said it was an "incredibly rare example of the Bible becoming meaningful to ordinary people".

She said it would have been put in a locket to protect wearers from danger.

The document, written in Greek, has been held by the library since 1901, but was largely ignored until Dr Mazza came across it.

'Doubly fascinating'

On one side, it has a combination of biblical passages from the books of Psalms and Matthew, while on the other is part of a receipt for payment of grain tax.

Dr Mazza said the amulet maker "would have cut a piece of the receipt, written the charm on the other side and then folded the papyrus to be kept in a locket".

She said the use of written charms was an ancient Egyptian practice, which was adopted by early Christians, who replaced prayers to Egyptian and Greco-Roman gods with passages from the Bible.

The papyrus may have been originally owned by a villager living near Hermopolis - now called Al Ashmunin - in east Egypt and "we now think knowledge of the Bible was more embedded in sixth century AD Egypt than we realised," she said.

The Bible

  • The Bible's Old Testament is the original Hebrew Bible, the sacred scriptures of the Jewish faith, which were written at different times between about 1200 and 165 BC
  • The New Testament books were written by Christians in the 1st Century AD
  • The world's oldest surviving Bible is the Codex Sinaiticus, which was written in the 4th Century and was found in a Sinai monastery in 1844

Source: BBC Religion

"This is an incredibly rare example of Christianity and the Bible becoming meaningful to ordinary people - not just priests and the elite.

"It's one of the first recorded documents to use magic in the Christian context and the first charm ever found to refer to the Eucharist - the Last Supper - as the manna of the Old Testament."

She said it was "doubly fascinating because the amulet maker clearly knew the Bible, but made lots of mistakes".

"Some words are misspelled and others are in the wrong order - this suggests that he was writing by heart rather than copying it."

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