GOSPEL CASKET, a rectangular box used to house the Gospel manuscript on the altar inside the church sanctuary. The Gospel is removed from its casket only for reading, when it is placed on a lectern in the choir area, and is returned to its casket immediately after the reading is completed. Though the use of such receptacles is known to date from remote Christian antiquity, ancient samples do not exist, and the oldest such items preserved in the Coptic Museum are from the fifteenth century.
Gospel caskets are made of solid wood and covered with embossed sheets of silver, bronze, or brass. Generally the metal sheet on the top of a casket bears an embossed inscription in Coptic with the Greek characters alpha and omega. One sample preserved in the Coptic Museum (no. 1526) bears the opening verse of the Gospel of Saint Mark on the upper sheet. On the bottom sheet, it bears the opening verse of the Gospel of Saint John. On the sides of the casket, there is an Arabic inscription to the effect that this object is bequeathed in perpetuity to the Church of Saint Barbara in Old Cairo, coupled with a prayerful phrase for the soul of the donor.
Another sample in the Coptic Museum (no. 1527) has similar embossed Coptic inscriptions on both faces, an Arabic inscription on the sides, the name of the donor, and a bequest in perpetuity to the Church of Saint Sergius in Old Cairo, coupled with the usual prayerful phrase for the soul of the giver.
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