NUBIAN LITURGY. Even at present Nubian liturgy remains
obscure. It is evident, however, that Byzantine-Greek, Coptic, and
native Nubian traditions all shared in the creation of a liturgical life
of richness and intensity among the Nubian Christians of the Nile
Valley between 500 and 1450.
Evidence comes from two main sources. The first is the
magnificent frescoes from the cathederal at FARAS, excavated in
the 1960s; the second is the manuscripts that may have formed part
of a cathedral library from the fortress town of QASR IBRIM. In
addition, small liturgical fragments in the same style of handwriting
as those from Qasr Ibrm have been found in a church at Sunnarti;
these appear to be from an amphora.
The frescoes from Faras indicate an intense religious life
centered on the cult of the Christ and the Virgin, the Archangel
Michael, and martyrs, especially the military martyrs Mercurius and
Demetrius. Apart from the frescoes themselves, graffiti cut or
painted on the plaster of the wall of the nave and aisle of the
cathedral bear witness to similar trends in popular piety. Typical
examples are "Lord Jesus [and] Mary, guard, bless, protect,
strengthen (and) help thy servant Marianne, daughter of Mariata. So
be it. Amen," and "Lord Jesus Christ [and] Michael, guard, bless,
protect, strengthen [and] help thy servant . . ." (Michalowski, 1974,
p. 299). An inscription by a deacon reads, "Lord Jesus Christ [and]
Mary, guard, bless, protect, strengthen [and] help thy servant
Joseph, the deacon, son of Mark [of the church] of Mary [in]
Pachora. So be it. Amen" (ibid., pp. 298-99).
Qasr Ibrim has no surviving frescoes, but documents from the
charred and torn remains of what is assumed to have been the
cathedral library scattered on the floor of the great church confirm
the evidence from Faras. The liturgy was sung apparently in Greek
or Nubian, with some texts of the church fathers, such as John
Chrysostom's "Homily on the Four Living Beasts," using Coptic.
From insertions in some of the prayers and directions to the
celebrant, it seems clear that Greek was as familiar as Nubian to the
worshipers, at least until about 1100. Fragments of a eucharistic
sequence that included an offertory prayer from a service book, the
opening passage of an anaphora of Athanasius and the transition
from the Mass of the Catechumens to the Mass of the Faithful, and a
large fragment of the prayer of dismissal indicate that the Nubian
liturgy was based on the liturgy of Saint Mark, although it was
shorter and simpler. This suggests that the Nubians observed older
forms of the liturgy, which underwent elaborations as time went on
in other areas where it was used.
The fervent character of the cult of military martyrs also can be
proved from the fragments of the Acta S. Mercurii and Acta S.
Georgii found in the cathedral of Qasr Ibrim. These confirm the
evidence from the frescoes at ‘ABDALLAH NIRQI as well as at
The liturgy of the Nubian churches would appear to have been
Monophysite, using a slightly modified form of the liturgy of Saint
Mark throughout the lifetime of the church there. In the eleventh
century, however, the use of the Euchologion Mega indicates
Melchite influence in the church of Faras. This development,
associated perhaps with the episcopate of Bishop Marianos (1005-
1037), whose tomb was at Qasr Ibrim and not Faras, needs further
research. Otherwise, the Nubian church remained true to its
Monophysite origins throughout its history.
WILLIAM H. C. FREND
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