Pilgrim flask

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found in Egypt

Postcard of Pilgrim flask.
© National Museums Scotland

Pilgrim flask

Pilgrim flasks were used by pilgrims to hold small amounts of secondary relics such as hallowed oil, earth, dust or water. This earthenware example dates from the 5th to the 7th century AD and was found in Egypt.

The flask or ampulla, has a flattened oval body and two hoops for suspension around the neck or body. The figure on the front is Menas, an Egyptian soldier-saint whose shrine was at Abu Mena, south-west of Alexandria.

Before the introduction of pilgrim flasks, precious shrines were often damaged by pilgrims breaking off bits of rock, stone and earth. To prevent such damage and to satisfy the growing demand for relics, the guardians of the shrines made available small amounts of hallowed oil, earth, dust and water, which were placed in small containers of ceramic or metal, and sealed up.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-180-001-940-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0504: National Museums Scotland Part 2
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  A.1936.506
Date: Between the 5th and 7th century AD
Dimensions: 93 mm H x 65 mm max W x 22 mm mouth D; 20 mm body D
What: Ampulla / oil flask
Subject: Vessels / Roman
Where: Ancient Egypt
Description: Ampulla or oil flask of buff earthenware, with a lenticular body and two crude loop handles connecting the body with the neck: Ancient Egyptian, Roman
  • Evans, G. Souvenirs From Roman Times to the Present Day. Edinburgh: NMS Publishing Ltd, 1999, pp 1-2. 
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